What Does Hate Really Look Like?

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The line out there in much of the media is, Christians hate gays. The fact is, Christians (evangelicals, generally, that is), disagree with much of the gay rights agenda; gay rights activists disagree with Christians. A recent attack on a church in Lansing, Michigan, could fairly be described as an expression of hate.

Worshippers at a Bible-teaching church in Lansing, Mich., were stunned Sunday when members of a pro-homosexual, pro-anarchy organization named Bash Back interrupted their service to fling propaganda and condoms around the sanctuary, drape a profane banner from the balcony and feature two lesbians making out at the pulpit.,,,, the protesters also screamed at parishioners and pulled the church facility’s fire alarm.

Compare the church’s response:

After things settled down, the blasphemy ended, the lewd props removed and the families safe from fear of additional men and women running into and past them the pastor took the stage and led the congregation in one more prayer … not for retribution, or divine justice or a celestial comeuppance (that’s what I’d have prayed for) but instead that the troubled individuals who’d just defiled the Lord’s house, so full of anger and hate, would know Jesus’ love in their lives and God’s peace that exceeds human understanding

What does hate really look like?

Related: What Does Love Really Look Like?

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95 Responses to “ What Does Hate Really Look Like? ”

  1. And based on this single, isolated incident, we can conclude that at least some gays hate Christians, and at least some Christians don’t hate gays. Thanks for the insight. If only the big, mean liberal media were as unbiased as you…

  2. Actually, Jordan, no. It shows that these Christians lived out existentially what their systematic theology and doctrinal commitments said they ought to do, in spite of their deep personal emotions or biases or even hatreds, and I’d imagine in some cases despite some intense feelings of revulsion. To them, love means, among many other things, self-restraint and self-sacrifice.

    Second, you could add our church to the list of people who would behave in the same way, and have done so in similar circumstances with a different group. I live in a town that is to the West, and therefore the Left of San Francisco. And it goes on and on. This just happens to be one of those rarely reported on incidences.

  3. I suppose if I link to Youtube videos of Christians acting hateful (do a search for Fred Phelps, for example), you guys will just say they’re not real Christians… *sigh* There are no true Scotsmen, eh?

    Eric Peterman,

    So, Christians are taught to hold immoral beliefs (e.g., that homosexuality is “sinful”), and I’m supposed to respect them for showing “self-restraint” and “self-sacrifice”? Isn’t that a bit like praising skinheads who refrain from lynching black people, or husbands who refrain from beating their wives? Restrained/repressed hate is still hate (and Tom, the fact that it doesn’t “look like” outward expressions of hate doesn’t make it any better).

  4. Jordan: And based on this single, isolated incident, we can conclude that at least some gays hate Christians, and at least some Christians don’t hate gays. Thanks for the insight.

    It is a news story and the type of story the mainstream media is likely to downplay. If the reverse had occurred and a group of Christians abused a gay meeting it would be headline material.

    If only the big, mean liberal media were as unbiased as you…

    Did Tom ever claim to be unbiased? The theme of his blog is distinctly Christian in nature. One can be biased though and still be fair. The contrast in the bahavior of the two groups not only depicts a manifestation of hatred, it also demonstrates what love is.

  5. Jordan,

    You’re right. Hateful “Christians” very likely are not Christians.

    There is a social category that with the label Christian, and includes people who attend churches with crosses on them, or people who were baptized at some point earlier in their life.

    There is also the reality that some people will co-opt religion for their own purposes, which seems (from my distance here) to be what Phelps’s group has done. They’re using religion to cover over their own hatefulness.

    But true Christianity is based on the true source, which is Jesus Christ, his teachings, his example; as well as the rest of the Scriptures which he himself affirmed.

    Jesus, and the rest of the Scriptures, said to love God, to love one another in the faith, to love our enemies, that love is the fulfillment of the law, not to retaliate in anger, that to judge another is to invite the same standard to be used against you, to live at peace with one another (so far as it depends on you).

    The teaching also includes a strong standard of truth, and boundaries around our behavior. Jesus himself made enemies by holding tenaciously to that truth and those boundaries—and they killed him for it. That demonstrates the extent to which he held to that as a way of being in the world.

    So the standard toward which Christians are called is that we ought to be firm in our stand regarding truth and morality, but loving in the way we express it. Those who are not at least making that their goal, are very likely just co-opting the name “Christian;” they are not followers of Jesus.

    We know that some people do not agree with God’s truth and Biblical morality, and may interpret us as expressing hate toward homosexuals. All I can tell you is that the actual gay men with whom I interact would probably tell you a completely different story. Disagreement does not equal hate.

    So, Christians are taught to hold immoral beliefs (e.g., that homosexuality is “sinful”), and I’m supposed to respect them for showing “self-restraint” and “self-sacrifice”?

    You and I differ on that “immoral belief.” Based on your scare quotes around the world, we probably differ on something even more profound than that: whether anything is actually sinful. That difference is definite, actually, if sin is understood first of all to be an offense (open or passive) against God.

    Many of the non-believers interacting here are moral relativists. I can’t recall whether you’ve stated your position on that, Jordan. If you are, then calling our position “immoral” has a very problematic basis. If not, then I need not pursue that any further.

    But given that we disagree on homosexuality, let me say this: if a gay rights activist responds to a direct attack with restraint, love, and compassion, then I would certainly respect him or her for it. You might consider whether you would view a Christian similarly.

  6. Jordan,

    I suppose if I link to Youtube videos of Christians acting hateful (do a search for Fred Phelps, for example), you guys will just say they’re not real Christians… *sigh* There are no true Scotsmen, eh?

    I agree with what Tom said, but I want to emphasize two words he said that might get overlooked – very likely are not Christians. You and I can only judge by what we see and hear, but God knows the heart of the individual. Tom is right to think that Fred Phelps sure doesn’t fit the Christian template (I agree), but ultimately God will be the judge.

    There are True Christians(tm) who desire to know God, love God and serve God; and he knows them by name even if we don’t.

  7. There is also the reality that some people will co-opt religion for their own purposes, which seems (from my distance here) to be what Phelps’s group has done. They’re using religion to cover over their own hatefulness.

    Well, Phelps and his ilk would beg to differ, and he can sling scripture with the best of them. The guy isn’t just some dunce-cap homophobe who stumbled across a Bible one day. He is (it pains me to say) quite intelligent, and, as a lawyer, he knows how to build & dismantle arguments. I think he makes a pretty compelling case that the Bible calls for hatred towards “fags.”

    From where I’m standing, it looks like this: The Bible is so self-contradictory and vague that pretty much anyone can mold it to fit their moral presuppositions. Ignore certain thorny passages (e.g., 99% of the OT), emphasize others, add a few extra-Biblical modernizations, and voila: You’ve got a shiny new worldview! And, as an added bonus, everyone now has to “respect” it, because it’s religious.

    Jesus, and the rest of the Scriptures, said to love God, to love one another in the faith, to love our enemies, that love is the fulfillment of the law, not to retaliate in anger, that to judge another is to invite the same standard to be used against you, to live at peace with one another (so far as it depends on you).

    …while sweeping pretty much the entire OT under the rug. I know, I know… Because of Jesus, we’re no longer bound by the Law, etc., etc. But the principles don’t change: God hated “sin” enough to murder “sinners”, sometimes en masse, at various points throughout the OT, and he’s morally perfect. Follow the logic.

    We know that some people do not agree with God’s truth and Biblical morality, and may interpret us as expressing hate toward homosexuals. All I can tell you is that the actual gay men with whom I interact would probably tell you a completely different story. Disagreement does not equal hate.

    Do you believe God is morally perfect? And do you believe He’s going to let practicing homosexuals suffer eternal torment after death? Doesn’t it then follow that homosexuals ought to suffer eternal torment after death? Well, that, my friend, is what hate really looks like.

    Many of the non-believers interacting here are moral relativists. I can’t recall whether you’ve stated your position on that, Jordan. If you are, then calling our position “immoral” has a very problematic basis. If not, then I need not pursue that any further.

    No, I’m not a moral relativist. That is why I have no problem using the OT to impugn the morality of the Bible.

    But given that we disagree on homosexuality, let me say this: if a gay rights activist responds to a direct attack with restraint, love, and compassion, then I would certainly respect him or her for it. You might consider whether you would view a Christian similarly.

    What if that gay rights activist was part of a group who’s manifesto called for the eternal, unrelenting, posthumous torture of all Christians? What if his group believed it was once appropriate (before the release of the 2nd edition of their manifesto, perhaps) for Christians to be rounded up and killed, and for entire Christian societies to be wiped out?

  8. Jordan,

    From where I’m standing, it looks like this: The Bible is so self-contradictory and vague that pretty much anyone can mold it to fit their moral presuppositions. Ignore certain thorny passages (e.g., 99% of the OT), emphasize others, add a few extra-Biblical modernizations, and voila: You’ve got a shiny new worldview! And, as an added bonus, everyone now has to “respect” it, because it’s religious.

    The bible is a literal collection of letters/books – a library if you will – with a common message and theme using various literary forms. You wouldn’t walk into a library pull out a history book, a book of poems, a philosophy book and a law book and cry out to the heavens, “This place is a hodgepodged mess of vague stories and self-contradictions!”

  9. Samuel wrote:
    “Christianity is a religion and its standard is based on what people believe.”

    Unfortunately, the concept of “belief” is non-trivial. The standard of Christianity is established by God. He gets to decide what He means by “belief”. Odds are, He won’t be impressed by someone who says one thing and lives another. He might be inclined to assign violence to “evidence of disbelief in the one who forgave those who were crucifying him”, for example. He might be disinclined to give a lot of weight to the answers on a multiple-choice theology exam.

  10. Note from Tom:

    As noted in this comment, posted two days ago, Samuel’s invitation to participate in discussions here is no longer open. This is most certainly not because of disagreements he has expressed here. It is because he expressed contempt, and thereby failed to meet what I have called the Starbucks standard for participation on this blog (see that comment for more on that).

    I made this decision this reluctantly, and not until I had posted more than one comment calling on him to meet a higher standard. I was not the only one to notice the tone of his comments, by the way.

    That comment (the first link above) was my first notification to Samuel about this, and I have emailed him another.

    The usual method for banning a commenter is to make it impossible to post from the IP address they use (the Internet identifying number for their computer). I did that, but since Samuel uses multiple addresses, that did not work as expected.

    I do intend to enforce the ban, even if the system cannot do it automatically. Therefore the comment Doug just answered is no longer online.

  11. Jordan,

    Your “from where I’m standing” comment reminds me, both in tone and substance, of people taking this approach.

    (Tom, forgive the out-link.)

    At the same time, you’re raging against a religious system for daring to draw moral lines that you disagree with. Is your morality perfect, then? That’s either very convenient, or incredibly narcissistic. Given that you probably don’t think your own morals are perfect, then perhaps you need to dial down the inflamed rhetoric about how tremendously “immoral” the Bible is. You don’t have a worthwhile standard with which to make such a claim.

    There’s a lot more depth and thought put into analysis of the Bible, Christian ethics, and morality than you seem willing to consider. From where I’m standing, it looks like this: you’ve made up your mind that Christianity is bogus, no matter what anyone says. It has to be, because it offends your personal sensibilities. You’ll ignore 99% of what theologians say, put an emotional-outrage vest on a ten-foot strawman, add a few comments from the obvious anomalies, and viola: you’ve got an impenetrable self-defense mechanism against religion.

    Those who think the moon landings were faked have a similar approach as well. They just caricature the science behind what actually happened, and ignore anything that doesn’t support their preferred belief.

    If you actually think Phelps’ case in convincing, then you’ve given all the evidence needed to say, firmly, that you truly don’t understand anything about exegesis. Worse, it suggests that your standard for “correct” scriptural interpretation has more to do with conformity to your own preferred stereotypes than legitimate scholarly merit. That Phelps is intelligent is not the point – his intelligence is focused on justifying his prejudices. Be careful that you don’t express the same kind of anger-based closed-mindedness that Phelps does; a bitter refusal to consider anything you don’t want to hear.

    You laid out so many overt mis-statements of Christian doctrine, in one comment, that there’s no reason to assume that you want to think about or discuss anything rationally.

    I don’t see how you’d expect your approach to justify more of a response than that.

  12. MM,
    My favorite line from that last link you gave was…

    Sammy: “All of my friends in detention agree with me, too.”

    🙂

  13. At the same time, you’re raging against a religious system for daring to draw moral lines that you disagree with.

    I am not “raging” against anything, and there is nothing “daring” about drawing moral lines that I disagree with.

    Is your morality perfect, then?

    What do you mean “my” morality? Perhaps you meant my perception of morality, in which case the answer is no. However, my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.

    Btw, it amuses me the way you Christians slink towards relativism whenever you feel morally vulnerable, as you’re doing here.

    You don’t have a worthwhile standard with which to make such a claim.

    Sure I do. It’s called morality.

    Now, taking your confusion to its logical conclusion, show me the “worthwhile standard” with which to claim that God provides a worthwhile standard with which to make moral statements.

    There’s a lot more depth and thought put into analysis of the Bible, Christian ethics, and morality than you seem willing to consider.

    Incorrect. I realize that people have put a lot of thought into analysis of the Bible, Christian ethics, and morality. I also realize that the amount of thought that gets put into something has nothing to do with whether or not it’s true.

    From where I’m standing, it looks like this: you’ve made up your mind that Christianity is bogus, no matter what anyone says.

    Whether or not Christianity is true has nothing to do with “what anyone says.” Either it’s true, or it isn’t.

    It has to be, because it offends your personal sensibilities.

    Christianity makes false ethical statements. It has nothing to do with my “personal sensibilities.”

    You’ll ignore 99% of what theologians say, put an emotional-outrage vest on a ten-foot strawman, add a few comments from the obvious anomalies, and viola: you’ve got an impenetrable self-defense mechanism against religion.

    No.

    I don’t see how you expect your approach to justify more of a response than that.

    Actually, your response was exactly what I expected: Long-winded, melodramatic, incoherent, fatuous, and full of projection. I dread having to slog through your next interminable diatribe…

  14. Jordan,

    Vulnerability? Are you really interested in considering another person’s viewpoint, or just looking for ways to avoid it? I didn’t mention relativism. I just noted that you’re claiming that the Bible is “morally” wrong. But you don’t have anything to compare it to other than your own opinion. You can play with words all you want, like this:

    J: However, my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.

    MM: You don’t have a worthwhile standard with which to make such a claim. | J: Sure I do. It’s called morality.

    How enlightening.

    “Truth vs falsehood” hadn’t even entered into your own argument, Jordan. You’re making purely emotional arguments. The first and foremost thing that’s superior about using God’s morality is that it isn’t subject to my whims. No matter what you want to do, say, or think, you could excuse it on the basis of “your” morality. Or, your “perception” of morality, if you want to dance around.

    You’re freely calling certain things “false”, but so far as I know you haven’t defended that assertion by anything other than the assertions themselves. That has everything to do with your personal sensibilities. You’re the one who said, to remind you:

    “…my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.”

    If you think that being asked to defend your own accusations and claims in a rational way is “interminable”, then what purpose is there behind making them?” I think it’s strange for a person to base their entire argument on emotion, then complain about “melodrama”.

    There could be more to say, but, as I said, I don’t see much point. You’re not projecting a willingness to discuss; you’re just spewing your absolute assurance that anything connected to the Bible must be totally wrong, period. Please don’t put on a veneer of respect for theology or Christian ethics; it doesn’t reduce the absurdity of your assertions.

    Unless you have something thoughtful or rational to say, then I don’t have anything to add. There’s nothing to be gained, and plenty of time to be lost.

  15. I didn’t mention relativism

    I was accusing you of “slinking towards relativism,” because of your use of terms like “my morality” and your failure to distinguish between morality, per se, and our perception of it.

    I just noted that you’re claiming that the Bible is “morally” wrong. But you don’t have anything to compare it to other than your own opinion.

    No, I’ve got morality.

    The first and foremost thing that’s superior about using God’s morality is that it isn’t subject to my whims.

    And morality itself is not subject to my whims. My perception of morality may be subjective, just as your perception of “God’s morality” (a fuzzy term if ever there was one) is subjective; but, just as you believe (I assume) “God’s morality” exists independently of your perception of it, I believe that morality, per se, exists independently of my perception of it (and, of course, independently of God, if God exists). Whereas you appeal to God as a superfluous middleman between you and morality, I employ Occam’s Razor by cutting out the middleman and appealing to morality directly.

    No matter what you want to do, say, or think, you could excuse it on the basis of “your” morality. Or, your “perception” of morality, if you want to dance around.

    Do you really not understand the distinction between morality and our perception of it? What about the distinction between “God’s morality” and your perception of it? Or how about the distinction between the color of an object and our perception of its color?

    You’re freely calling certain things “false”, but so far as I know you haven’t defended that assertion by anything other than the assertions themselves.

    That’s because those assertions are basic. My perception of right & wrong is like my perception of an object’s color. If you disagree with my basic assertion that an apple is red, all I can really do is point to the apple; and, if you still disagree, then you must be color blind. Likewise, if you disagree with my basic assertion that Christianity’s stance on homosexuality is immoral, then you must be morally handicapped (in which case I suppose I pity you).

    Please don’t put on a veneer of respect for theology or Christian ethics; it doesn’t reduce the absurdity of your assertions.

    I have never pretended to respect theology or Christian ethics.

  16. Jordan,

    All very well said. I only wish that Samuel Skinner were still here to read it.

    I vowed not to write here anymore but have checked back. Good to see that I wasn’t the only problem. Seems like the same group is still here, except for the expelled. Let me see, that goes something like Ed Darrell, Adonais, Samuel Skinner, and quite a few whose names right now escape me.

    Tom, I have to ask why you continue to host this site, pretend to invite intellectual discussion (“thinking” christian, etc.), but throw people out whenever they appear determined to apply intellectual rigor to questionable assertions. Seriously, it’s not just me, or the gentlemen I mention above, who create this rancor. I think you may want to consider how you portray this site, or let people argue these fine points without fear of you swooping in and expelling them before they can continue the defense of the defensible. Otherwise you’re just fooling others, and yourself.

    PS. Medicine Man, I still have to say, you have got to look up the term “psychological projection.” Seriously.

  17. However, my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.

    Then there is some standard outside of your morality and his, some standard that yours more nearly approaches. What is that standard please, and on what basis does it claim this level of authority?

    Btw, it amuses me the way you Christians slink towards relativism whenever you feel morally vulnerable, as you’re doing here.

    Heavens, no! He’s just noting that there are different moralities, yours and his. He’s not saying that means relativism is true. He’s saying that differences exist. Goodness, where did you ever get that from?

    Christianity makes false ethical statements. It has nothing to do with my “personal sensibilities.”

    What is the true ethics that Christianity offends, and how do we know it is true?

    I employ Occam’s Razor by cutting out the middleman and appealing to morality directly.

    Where does this morality dwell (metaphorically speaking, of course)? In what does it inhere? Is it part of the eternal nature of the universe? Did it evolve with sentient life? Or something else?

    Actually, your response was exactly what I expected: Long-winded, melodramatic, incoherent, fatuous, and full of projection. I dread having to slog through your next interminable diatribe…

    Welcome to our table at Starbucks, Jordan… Nice to hear you speaking so respectfully toward the gang here!

  18. Tony, my standards for discussion are clearly stated in the discussion policies. There is no pretense here, with respect to who is invited to stay and who is not. I make it quite clear what kind of discussion I’m hosting, and what kind I am not hosting. Anyone who likes this approach and wants to participate on that basis is welcome to do so.

    There are plenty of people who disagree with me, and have continued to do so, and who have been long-time contributors to this blog. You should know: you are one of them. I would welcome more of the same. I do not, however, welcome contempt, insults, or other forms of personal verbal attacks. That’s the choice I’ve made and that I am sticking with.

  19. Jordan,

    You can try to shave a difference between “morality” and “my perception of morality” all you like, but you’re not applying the two ideas in any way that separates them. In fact, you’re presuming that you have an infallible perception of morality – that whatever you, Jordan, perceive to be true about morals is, in fact, infallibly true. Everyone else is “handicapped”.

    Bertrand Russell tried the same version of the “color” argument on Copleston, and it didn’t work there, either. Our sense of color and our sense of morals are not sufficiently alike to make that relationship work. Color is based on sight, morals are not. Two informed people can disagree about a moral issue honestly – that is not possible with the color of an object, in the sense you’re trying to use it.

    More relevantly, what we see is the same thing, but we’re calling it by different terms. We both see a wavelength of 650nm. You call it “blue”, I call it “red.” All we agree on is that “red” is bad and “blue” is good. The real question is: where are the terms “red” and “blue” defined? You’re sneering at the idea of those who make a real effort to define “red” and “blue”; you’re just declaring “my choice to call it ‘blue’ is correct, and if you disagree, then you’re handicapped.” I choose to define the term in a way that’s not entirely a product of my own opinion – which is what your arguments make it, no matter how often you try to say that “I’m just saying that ‘blue’ is my perception of it.”

    In short, you’re just calling it “blue” because you don’t think that 650nm should be ‘bad’, and red is ‘bad’. For you, this is 100%, first, last, and completely a question of your own preferences. As you said:

    “…my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.”

    “…if you disagree with my basic assertion that Christianity’s stance on homosexuality is immoral, then you must be morally handicapped.”

    “I have never pretended to respect theology or Christian ethics.”

    And so forth, devoid of appeals to anything but your own superior moral sense. That’s just naked assertion. Worse, (intentionally or not), by equating your personal perceptions with truth and all others as handicapped, you’re falling into self-deification. You’re granting yourself an absolute ability to make moral judgments, while at the same time blasting the Bible for making a moral judgment.

    I bring up “your morality” because of ideas like this:

    “…Likewise, if you disagree with my basic assertion that Christianity’s stance on homosexuality is immoral, then you must be morally handicapped.”

    You’ve subconsciously defined your perception of morality as the only valid one. There is absolutely no difference between saying, “I am the only one who can accurately perceive moral truth”, and “I am the only one who can define moral truth.” It’s just a word game. I recognize that my own moral perceptions may be in error. You, according to what you’ve said here, do not.

    That’s what makes some of this condemnation of the Bible so farcical. It’s so ‘obviously’ wrong, so clearly ‘immoral’ – so says…who? Jordan, he who knows and perceives better than any so-called God ever could? Who backs up his authority only with more of the same self-assuring pronouncements?

    “I have never pretended to respect theology or Christian ethics.”

    That would explain why you call Phelps’ analysis of the Bible “pretty compelling”. It’s also why I’m comfortable saying that you don’t bother to think about issues related to them. You’re willing to accept the authority of Fred Phelps simply because he tells you what you want to hear. He reinforces the stereotype you need to prop up your criticism.

    Your tone and words suggest that you’re not the least interested in dialogue, learning, or understanding, at least so far as this issue goes. Your mind is made up, you are ‘perceptive’, and we are ‘handicapped’. What point are you attempting to demonstrate by taking such an approach?

  20. Tony,

    Well, I’ve interacted with two of the three names you mentioned at several other forums. There, they displayed a tendency to skip reason and go right for the foot-stomping, heavy-breathing, angry and insulting sneer-fest that makes such discussions a waste of time. What’s the point of talking to someone who just wants to stomp their feet and scream about the fact that I’m not kowtowing to their opinion? If Tom chose not to include them in discussions here, I’m not the slightest bit surprised.

    When people make “questionable assertions”, I expect them to “apply intellectual rigor to” defending them. When they don’t, I tend to hold their feet to the fire. If I’m guilty of projecting anything, it’s my own stubborn distaste for flippancy and ignorance. I tend to assume, often wrongly, that others are ready to back up their assertions with some legitimate thinking.

  21. Tom,

    Banning someone who contributes substantively to a posted debate is a form of contempt on your part. Especially when it’s enforced against some and not others.

    Here’s the pattern: You post, someone responds in disagreement, the discussion goes on and the heat turns up. Very often, the first evidence of contempt, disagreement, or verbal attacks are not made by those who disagree with you, but those in support of your position. When the attacked respond in kind, they are banned.

    It’s beyond tiresome, and it’s why I don’t bother to comment here anymore.

    To my assertions, Medicine Man responded: “Well, I’ve interacted with two of the three names you mentioned at several other forums. There, they displayed a tendency to skip reason and go right for the foot-stomping, heavy-breathing, angry and insulting sneer-fest that makes such discussions a waste of time. What’s the point of talking to someone who just wants to stomp their feet and scream about the fact that I’m not kowtowing to their opinion? … If I’m guilty of projecting anything, it’s my own stubborn distaste for flippancy and ignorance.”

    This is his response to my assertion that he is psychologically projecting.

    And this is why Medicine Man is not correct. I can easily Google search medicine man’s name and some of the others and find a discussion on another blog. Maybe it’s the one to which Medicine Man was referring. In that discussion, I have evidence of Medicine Man writing in a style that he uses to characterize others, as he puts it, “foot-stomping, heavy-breathing, angry and insulting sneer-fest … flippancy and ignorance.” Here is my evidence:

    Quotes from Medicine Man at (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3004069192536581829&postID=4381758881201015762)

    “To say that there is “no evidence”, frankly, makes you a fool.”

    “No, you’re too busy failing in your attempts to be a comedian to take this seriously and read what I wrote.”

    “You might want to apply a bit more thought to the issue at hand, rather than lame jokes, because you’re not winning any prizes for comedic styling any time soon.”

    “I’m brushing aside your attempts to miss, muddle, or mangle the point, to be sure.”

    “I’d forgive observers for thinking you’d had a corpus callosotomy and were simultaneously typing out totally different ideas with either hand.“

    “News flash: you don’t [have a monopoly on reason], and I’m not going to back off of clearly delineated ideas to avoid stinging the pride of someone who gets worked into a tizzy when he’s expected to stand and deliver.”

    [This is what you say to someone who holds a scientific degree in Astronomy] “Look, this is either over your head or you’re being deliberately obtuse.”

    “If those simple statements are beyond your understanding, then so be it.”

    [In response to this statement of reality — There are individuals for whom adopting atheism implies no philosophical overhead.] “This is total bunk. Absolutely, completely, irredeemably garbage. That’s the cop-out of all cop-outs.”

    So, it looks to me like Medicine Man is provably wrong. Now, Tom, I imagine that you’ll say that Medicine Man does not behave that way on your blog, but a) Medicine Man was making a blanket assertion that was I only had to find contrary evidence to prove wrong, and b) it would be easy for me to find him using like language here.

    What’s my point? Tom, you are good at attracting participants and provoking debate on issues for which there are two sides. But that’s not enough. Things would be better here, significantly better, if you allowed the discussions to flow without fear of arbitrary banishment. (I agree that highly profane language, of course, should be off limits, as should contributors who are clearly spamming the system, but I think that goes without saying.)

    My suggestion would be to invite back those whom I think you too-hastily banished. I imagine that most of them would not be interested in returning, but I am certain that it would go a long way to restoring the level of intellectual discussion you say you aspire to.

  22. Tony, banishment here is not arbitrary. I follow the guidelines posted in the discussion policies. If you don’t agree with them, at least realize that every blogger has the right to set their own standards. Mine are clear. Commenters who follow them have nothing to fear.

    You recommend looser standards (perhaps, anything up to but not including obvious spamming or “highly profane language”). I take that to mean that if you had your own blog, you would run it differently than I do mine. That’s fine. Participation here is subject to the discussion policies of this blog, not of anyone else’s.

    By the way, I agree that what you quoted from Medicine Man approaches the line between substantive contribution and personal attack. Something to watch out for, okay, MM?

    Relative to that, Tony, take note that I also gave Samuel a second chance after a similar notification, upon which he escalated his language of contempt (his word, not mine) rather than toning it down; which earned him the result he received.

  23. Tony,

    Here’s a working link to the conversation you’re quoting. I’m more than comfortable letting people read the entire thing and judging for themselves.

    That thread was exactly what I was talking about. All of the comments quoted were made in response to the kind of flippancy and closed-mindedness that I spoke of. That a person has a degree in science doesn’t make them an expert on religion or philosophy. In that particular case, I still don’t think that that person understood my arguments. He was going around in circles telling me I was wrong, but he couldn’t say how without contradicting himself. Either he didn’t get it, or he was stonewalling. Either way, I’m not one to apologize for saying things people don’t like to hear.

    I think the context of that conversation speaks for itself. (So does this one.) I wonder…did you read all of it, or just my comments?

  24. Tom, et al:

    I’m more comfortable than some with rattling a person’s barriers; what was quoted is an example. I can pull phrases out of sermons, speeches, and books that sound a lot worse as sound bites than they do in the context of a conversation.

    Regardless, I don’t engage in that style of argument here for exactly the reasons that are being discussed. That’s not how you want to do things, so I don’t.

  25. Anyway, back to the topic after all that 🙂

    I am sure there were many ways to respond to such a thing.

    Honestly, my immediate reaction – even reading that – would be to restore order, call the cops, herd them out or something like that – non-violently of course.

    But their response stops me in my tracks, gives me pause.

    The question is, which response is the Christian one? The answer should be evident, given the circumstances.

    ***
    re: Fred Phelps – I think even the name of that “church” website should give illumination as to whether we should think of them as Christian or not, let alone the responses to complaint/concern for them on the guestbook.

  26. Then there is some standard outside of your morality and his, some standard that yours more nearly approaches. What is that standard please, and on what basis does it claim this level of authority?

    Yes, that standard is called “morality.” There is no such thing as “my morality” or “your morality.” There’s just morality, period. I would’ve thought we were on the same page on this.

    Heavens, no! He’s just noting that there are different moralities, yours and his.

    That’s exactly what relativism is: The notion that there are different moralities for different people. I am saying there aren’t “different moralities.” There’s only one true morality, and different (in terms of accuracy) perceptions of it.

    What is the true ethics that Christianity offends, and how do we know it is true?

    Morality. We assess moral propositions with our moral sense, just as we assess others kinds of propositions with other senses.

    Where does this morality dwell (metaphorically speaking, of course)? In what does it inhere?

    Those questions make no sense, as morality is not a physical entity. You might as well ask in what does God inhere, or where do numbers dwell.

    Is it part of the eternal nature of the universe? Did it evolve with sentient life? Or something else?

    It is part of reality, like logic, math, asthetics, etc. Whether or not it’s part of the universe depends on how you define universe, I guess.

    Welcome to our table at Starbucks, Jordan… Nice to hear you speaking so respectfully toward the gang here!

    If he’s going to be disrespectful towards me, I can return the favor.

  27. In fact, you’re presuming that you have an infallible perception of morality – that whatever you, Jordan, perceive to be true about morals is, in fact, infallibly true. Everyone else is “handicapped”.

    Aren’t you doing exactly the same thing regarding your perception of “God’s morality”? How is, “X is wrong, according to my perception of morality,” any worse than, “X is wrong, according to my perception of God’s morality”? If anything, the latter is more tenuous, since you are relying not only on your potentially flawed perception of “God’s morality,” but also on your potentially flawed perception of his infallibility (after all, if he isn’t infallible, then how do we know “His morality” is worth our consideration?).

    Two informed people can disagree about a moral issue honestly – that is not possible with the color of an object, in the sense you’re trying to use it.

    Morality is more complex than color, but that isn’t relevant to the analogy. The point is, we have a moral sense, and it is similar in kind to our visual sense (and our other senses). We “see” the rightness/wrongness of certain actions. If you see someone getting raped, you know instantly, without having to consult your Bible, that there’s something immoral going on. That’s your moral sense.

    Worse, (intentionally or not), by equating your personal perceptions with truth and all others as handicapped, you’re falling into self-deification. You’re granting yourself an absolute ability to make moral judgments, while at the same time blasting the Bible for making a moral judgment.

    How do you know God (via the Bible) makes correct moral judgements? Is it because of your absolute ability to make factual judgements about God’s character?

    All of the other points you made were bombastic red herrings, so I’m going to ignore them.

  28. Jordan,

    What other kinds of “propositions” do we assess with our other senses? I think I know what you mean, but please clarify. I don’t think that applies in the way you intend it to.

    If you think morality is objective, that there is only one “correct” morality, then you have to be able to define its parameters. I’d echo Tom’s request that you say more about “morality”, as you see it: objective and yet known purely through feeling. It’s not good enough to just say that it exists – you have to know what it says, and how you know it. You should be able to say what is and is not moral, devoid of personal feelings. I agree that morals are objective, but the problem is in how you’re trying to go about it.

    You’re trying to say that morals are apprehended through a “moral sense”, (I agree), and that is all which is required to deem something “moral” (I disagree). As with my example of color, you have to have an objective definition that is totally external to your own perceptions, otherwise it’s just a matter of opinion. Some people really are “color handicapped” – but without some external, non-feeling-based standard to define colors, how would you know who’s handicapped, and who isn’t? As I said, Russell tried to say that he apprehended morals, “on the basis of feelings”, after his contention that they were apprehended in the same way he judged colors was rejected.

    The problem is that feelings are fickle. Our sense of “what is right” can be affected by our mood, our addictions, our rationalizations, and so forth. Unless you can point to some standard other than someone’s “feeling”, then you’re just stuck in relativism. That’s just a logical necessity. Functionally, the idea that moral judgments are based purely in subjective “feelings” is relativistic. What’s to say that your feelings are more accurate than mine, if feelings are all that there are, morally speaking?

    We don’t just apprehend logic and mathematics through a “feeling”. We objectively define them in ways that are not subject to our whims, external to ourselves, and have their origins outside of ourselves. I certainly agree that some logical statements I hear go through the “smell test”, but there are some that can’t really be analyzed without referring to something other than my “feeling” about them. There are times when a logical construction seems valid (or invalid) to me, and it’s only after breaking it down into components (objectivity) that I see that I was wrong.

    The difference in our approaches as it pertains to infallibility is right there. You’re basing everything on your feelings. There’s nothing else to appeal to – not even your posited objective capital-M-morality. Why? Because it’s not defined anywhere – it’s just “feelings” humans apprehend. I’m appealing to something that’s apprehended not only through my moral sense, but objective things like scripture and other forms of non-emotional revelation.

    So, I’m relying on my “perceptions”, but their authority is secondary to moral tenets that are apprehended objectively. I have something against which to check them. For that reason, even if my morals are “wrong”, they are still truly “objective”. Yours cannot be, if you claim that all you need do is appeal to “morality” itself, purely on the basis of your feelings. Even under your own system, you can’t logically reject my moral perceptions as any less valid than yours…other than by fiat.

    I don’t think you’d accept the charge that you were “mathematically handicapped” on the basis that I appeal directly to my “math sense” when I decide what’s correct in calculus, whereas you use a middleman and appeal to some textbook, theorem, or other source. In essence, you’re charging something like that. That’s why I said that you’re dancing on the edge of self-deification. The approach you’re taking places your own ability to “perceive” morality as more authoritative than anything else. And you’re awfully sure of it:

    “…my perception of morality is obviously better than yours.”

    “…if you disagree with my basic assertion that Christianity’s stance on homosexuality is immoral, then you must be morally handicapped.”

    (emphasis mine)

    My willingness to call God’s morality “good” is based on a lot of things; His attributes, logical necessities, and so forth. That’s a valid question, but it’s also entirely beside the point at hand. Before we can even really talk about what’s “right” or “wrong”, we have to know how to define them. My way, at least, isn’t subject to my own whims – whether I “feel” something is right or not, I can still apprehend it’s moral status consistently.

    If everyone took your approach, then no one could be sure of any moral proposition, since all we have is our own feelings. Others may have their feelings, but how can we say who is “handicapped”, and who is “perceptive” then?

    If you feel my points were red herrings, at least explain how these two statements are supposed to be reconciled:

    “I think [Phelps] makes a pretty compelling case that the Bible calls for hatred towards ‘fags’.”

    “I have never pretended to respect theology or Christian ethics.”

    I think it’s perfectly valid, and relevant to the conversation, to mention that. On one hand, you’re holding up a hatemonger, who fits your preferred stereotypes, as “compelling”, while at the same time expressing a lack of respect for the very fields that would make such a determination.

  29. Jordan,

    Interesting discussion!

    Yes, that standard is called “morality.” There is no such thing as “my morality” or “your morality.” There’s just morality, period. I would’ve thought we were on the same page on this.

    Very close, yes. I think you’re reifying morality as a thing in itself, possibly. I don’t know how it can exist on its own, though, as I’ll explain in what follows:

    Where does this morality dwell (metaphorically speaking, of course)? In what does it inhere?

    Those questions make no sense, as morality is not a physical entity. You might as well ask in what does God inhere, or where do numbers dwell.

    Okay, I’ll accept that. I’ll ask a different question to try to get at what I was aiming for earlier. Is morality a kind of duty? If so, to whom or what is it a duty? This relates to my earlier question about when and where it arose: is morality eternal, did it arise with—or in—sentient life, or something else? To say that it’s part of reality like logic or math seems problematic, unless you can somehow show that there is no duty to another (person, thing, or something else?) involved in morality. If there is such a duty, then the person/thing/something else must be identified. So I’ll be interested to hear how you view this.

    How is, “X is wrong, according to my perception of morality,” any worse than, “X is wrong, according to my perception of God’s morality”

    Great question. Our view of God is largely dependent on our faith that he has created us in his image, and that he is capable of communicating to us. We have incomplete and imperfect awareness of his morality, but there are some things we know clearly, based on his clear revelation to us. Your perception of morality is guided by the image of God you bear, but lacks the guidance of God’s revelation to correct the kinds of errors that any of us could easily fall into.

    The point is, we have a moral sense, and it is similar in kind to our visual sense (and our other senses). We “see” the rightness/wrongness of certain actions. If you see someone getting raped, you know instantly, without having to consult your Bible, that there’s something immoral going on. That’s your moral sense.

    I agree completely, subject to the condition stated just above.

    How do you know God (via the Bible) makes correct moral judgements? Is it because of your absolute ability to make factual judgements about God’s character?

    It is because of my confidence in God’s ability to communicate, to reveal himself.

  30. All right, against all my better judgment I’ll give this another go.

    Medicine Man,

    Yes, I read the entire conversation from which I quote you – thanks for including the working link. I don’t believe that you come across differently in a full reading. I am confident that others reading that conversation will come to the same conclusion. Clearly, and to my point, you are not one of them, so I have nothing further to add that could be constructive.

    On this topic, you say,

    “I’m appealing to something that’s apprehended not only through my moral sense, but objective things like scripture and other forms of non-emotional revelation.”

    People in the past decided what should be called Scripture and what should not. To what objective standard did they appeal, and what prevents me from appealing to the same source now?

    Scripture itself must be interpreted. How is the process of scriptural interpretation not subjective? (Are you contending that language is objective?)

    Lastly, what are the other forms of “non-emotional revelation” to which you appeal?

    You wrote:

    I don’t think you’d accept the charge that you were “mathematically handicapped” on the basis that I appeal directly to my “math sense” when I decide what’s correct in calculus, whereas you use a middleman and appeal to some textbook, theorem, or other source. In essence, you’re charging something like that.

    Jordan seems to me to be referring to morality directly in the same way that a mathematician appeals directly to math, not to a textbook on math. Jordan is just pointing out the obvious – that if a textbook says 2 + 2 = 5, we can appeal directly to math to prove that the textbook is incorrect. In other words, there is a real thing that was not created by God, and to which we can appeal. His point is consistent and worthy of philosophical consideration. See, as they say, the eurythro dilemma.

    I am not so sure that morality exists objectively, and as such the Eurythro dilemma is a little rich for my blood. But the idea that morality exists objectively is appealing. Please consider this: Your ability to perform calculus depends on how well you have trained your math sense. Your ability to make moral decisions is based on how well you have trained your moral sense. We develop our math sense from an innate understanding that 1 + 1 = 2. We build our moral sense from an innate compulsion to share, from an innate revulsion for violence against those with whom we are close, etc. We construct elaborate systems of math, and of morality, based on these innate senses. Sometimes the results of these constructions can be counter-intuitive to us (Numbers can be imaginary? I should forgive someone who has done me a great wrong?), but that does not make the constructions invalid nor math and morality any less real.

    Tom, you wrote :

    “To say that [morality is] part of reality like logic or math seems problematic, unless you can somehow show that there is no duty to another (person, thing, or something else?) involved in morality.”

    I think you might need to ask this question over again, because the paragraph containing this sentence doesn’t make any sense to me. It sounds like you’re saying that morality can only exist as a part of reality, like math or logic, if it has no duty to something. I don’t understand why you would assert that.

    In response to Jordan’s questions, “How do you know God (via the Bible) makes correct moral judgements? Is it because of your absolute ability to make factual judgements about God’s character?” you wrote:

    It is because of my confidence in God’s ability to communicate, to reveal himself.

    Then you have the burden of proof to demonstrate that God’s ability to communicate and reveal himself deserves confidence. So far, the evidence I have come across, including that on this site, is utterly unconvincing.

  31. Tony,

    The decisions of what was included in Scripture were based on rather objective standards of acknowledged reliability, authorship, authenticity, and so on. It’s a long discussion, which you can explore here if you are so inclined.

    Scripture itself must be interpreted. How is the process of scriptural interpretation not subjective? (Are you contending that language is objective?)

    How is the process of interpreting your question not subjective? Can’t I take it to mean whatever I subjectively think it means, or want it to mean? Well, no, of course not. The same is true for Scripture. Interpretation is based on fairly standard grammatico-historical principles of hermeneutics. In English, that means you look at what is said, the words and the grammar, and the historical situation in which it is said, and you draw out its intended meaning, just as you are doing now as you read my words.

    The process is not infallible, but it is generally reliable, and yes, we can get a good sense of what Scripture is saying in most cases. It’s not that hard.

    I’ll skip ahead a bit and let MM respond to some of what you wrote. Later you quoted something I had written and then asked,

    It sounds like you’re saying that morality can only exist as a part of reality, like math or logic, if it has no duty to something. I don’t understand why you would assert that.

    Sorry if I was unclear.

    I believe that morality involves a duty to God. That’s not an completely satisfactory statement of the case, but it’s certainly correct as far as it goes. It is also the case that moral behavior is good because to act morally is to act in accordance with the basic principles of reality, flowing from the character of God. To do what is good is to align oneself with what is fundamentally true of reality.

    Now, I take it that Jordan’s belief in the objectivity of morality has nothing to do with duty to God, or to aligning oneself with the way God has built reality. To say that morality is objective is to say, I think, that morality really exists. I’m wondering in what form it exists, on Jordan’s view (or yours, if you’re willing to explore this territory). Is it eternal? Does its existence predate sentient life? If intelligent life had never evolved, would morality still have existed? If its existence depends on intelligent life, does it have a reality independent of that now-evolved life? If not, does it exist in individual minds, or in society, or in some other form? Does it involve a duty just to those individual minds, or to society, or to that (possible) other form in which it really exists?

    These are examples of questions, all of which are designed to get to just one, really: if morality really exists apart from God, what is the nature of its existence and of its claim upon us?

    Then you have the burden of proof to demonstrate that God’s ability to communicate and reveal himself deserves confidence. So far, the evidence I have come across, including that on this site, is utterly unconvincing.

    Well, I’ll keep trying!

  32. Tony,

    ”People in the past decided what should be called Scripture and what should not. To what objective standard did they appeal…”

    Note that the standards for determining what is or is not inspired scripture are different, though related, to those for determining what is or is not valid in morality in the sense we’re discussing here. And, as Tom said, it’s a large topic in and of itself, but here’s a quick shake for how it pertains here:

    Rejected texts, simply put, have some properties that inspired scriptures don’t. Contradictions (whether internal, or to established inspired texts), obviously non-inspired sources, and false prophecies are some of the signs of non-inspired text. In some cases, it’s a matter of text being backed up with proof, which also relates to this question:

    “Lastly, what are the other forms of “non-emotional revelation” to which you appeal?”

    When someone says, “I am giving you a message from the ultimate authority in the universe,” the only incontrovertible evidence is a miracle. Scriptural texts were considered inspired when they were backed up by miraculous actions on the part of the messengers, in part. There’s no emotionally relativistic component to witnessing one man raise another one from the dead. You either saw it or you didn’t. When that man says, “the entity who has ultimate moral authority and gave me this miraculous power wants you to know X,” that’s a pretty compelling argument that what he says is coming from that ultimate authority. The events described in Exodus and Elijah’s contest with Baal are other good examples.

    There’s also no emotional component to noting irreconcilable moral or philosophical contradictions. Other moral/ethical systems, such as Hinduism, are very open about the fact that they contain directly contradictory ideas. Not just difficulties, not just ideas in tension, but overt and literal contradictions. That’s not a sign of truth, and it’s something that Christian scriptures don’t suffer from.

    That’s a quick and rough idea, but I think you get the point. There are empirical and logical reasons supporting the idea that Christian morality is “the” morality. There’s a lot more to be said in support of Christian morality than “it agrees with my feelings.” Appeals to “naked morality”, or relativism, can’t have any such supports because of the very nature of those approaches.

    “…and what prevents me from appealing to the same source now?”

    Nothing, strictly speaking. You’re just as able as anyone else to see the evidence of miracles, logic, and consistency. Note that “appealing to” a source doesn’t automatically mean you can claim it for whatever purpose you like, though. You can’t argue that 2+2=5, on the basis that you ‘have as much right to appeal to mathematics’ as someone else.

    Language requires interpretation, of course. However, language is still fundamentally objective. The meaning of a word might be dependent on context, and might have some “play” in it. However, using a particular word anchors the idea it relates the same way a chain anchors a dog. The dog can only get so far away from the stake before the chain breaks. There is a limit to how far one can stretch a word’s conveyed meaning.

    So, when the Bible says, “you will not commit murder”, the influence of “subjectivity” in that statement is more or less irrelevant. There is an idea being conveyed by those words, and the words chosen provide an anchor point from which one can only stray so far (and not very far at all, in most cases).

    The problem with Jordan’s math analogy is that morality is not just a question of applying symbolic logic to abstractions. In fact, one can’t appeal to “math” as though it were a thing of itself, since it’s not. It’s grounded in something else. Math is grounded in logic; morality is grounded in God. Or, at least, it has to be in order to make any sense.

    As with 1+1=2, you still have to have an objective, non-“feeling” definition for what “1”, “2”, “+”, and “=” mean. You still have to appeal to an external source, otherwise there’s no rational way to say who is right or wrong about arithmetic. We can say that 1+1=3 is false only because there are objective definitions for what all of those terms mean.

    With morality, we have to have that external objective standard. That’s why I indicated that the first question is the nature of morality: is it objective or subjective? Moral relativism is incoherent, because there’s nothing to “relate” to. If every moral statement is purely an expression of preferences, then there is no scale, coordinates, or reference point to determine where the lines of right and wrong are drawn. It’s just one person’s opinion against another’s.

    The Euthyphro dilemma isn’t all that bad, depending on how you approach it. God defines what is good. It’s also a necessary part of the nature of a being who cannot change, so the answer is really “both”, but for practical purposes, all that’s important is what He defines “good” to be. The typical counter-question (so what if God had said such-and-such a bad thing was good instead) is as irrelevant as asking a physicist “so what it gravity actually repelled, instead of attracted?”

  33. Guys, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to bow out of this discussion for now. Things are suddenly blowing up at work, and will likely continue to do so right through to Christmas. I read your last posts with interest, though, and I’ll continue to check this thread when I’ve got time.

  34. Tom,

    Thanks for the link, but I am not unfamiliar with the history of the bible — I have taken college courses on the New Testament (including exegetical studies of the Gospels), the Roman Empire, Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and a couple of years of Latin. My familiarity with biblical texts, the milieus, and the communities vying for political power through religion is among the reasons I am skeptical about the transmission of objective truths through the documents contained inside and outside the bible.

    You and Medicine Man say you have access to objective morality through the bible. But you both conced that language is interpreted subjectively. In addition, the site you provided a link to admits that the extra biblical texts have been excluded that “contain fanciful additions to the biblical record, a mixture of Greek philosophy/mythology and Old Testament theology, platitudes that contradict the Bible, and errors in the areas of science, history, geography, etc. It is on these grounds that we reject the pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament as non-canonical.”

    This is an admission that the bible is a compilation of documents that depends on relative information. Should new documents be found that demonstrate that canonical document contains a mixture of Greek mythology with Old Testament theology, for instance, then those biblical documents would be subject to removal from the canon. This is just one of the many ways that the process for deciding what is Scripture cannot be considered objective – it is, by this admission alone, a relative document, problems with language aside.

    Medicine Man,

    Regarding the other objective forms of non-emotional revelation to which you allude, you say:

    When [a man who has witnessed a miracle] says, “the entity who has ultimate moral authority and gave me this miraculous power wants you to know X,” that’s a pretty compelling argument that what he says is coming from that ultimate authority.

    Actually, that’s not even slightly compelling. Why don’t you believe in other religions, cults, etc. whose adherents make exactly the same kind of statement?

    That’s a quick and rough idea, but I think you get the point. There are empirical and logical reasons supporting the idea that Christian morality is “the” morality.

    I have to point out that you have not given me any logical or empirical reasons that support the idea that Christian morality is “the idea.”

    Language requires interpretation, of course. However, language is still fundamentally objective. The meaning of a word might be dependent on context, and might have some “play” in it. However, using a particular word anchors the idea it relates the same way a chain anchors a dog. The dog can only get so far away from the stake before the chain breaks. There is a limit to how far one can stretch a word’s conveyed meaning.

    This is not true. Totalitarian regimes famously redefine words in complete opposition to the word’s previously understood meanings. The politically correct constantly demand to have a derogatory word replaced with a new word that they feel is not charged with those negative meanings, those characteristics of which are then passed to the new word. The dog can not only stretch that chain, he routinely breaks it altogether.

    In the rest of your post you say that morality must be grounded. You say that math is grounded in logic, but you don’t say what logic is grounded in. You mischaracterize what Jordan says, that his standard for morality is his personal preference, when he says that his standard is Morality itself. And if you agree that the Eurythro dilemma is irrelevant then you concede Jordan’s point, that Morality simply is.

  35. Tony,

    “Regarding the other objective forms of non-emotional revelation to which you allude, you say:

    When [a man who has witnessed a miracle] says, “the entity who has ultimate moral authority and gave me this miraculous power wants you to know X,” that’s a pretty compelling argument that what he says is coming from that ultimate authority.

    Actually, that’s not even slightly compelling. Why don’t you believe in other religions, cults, etc. whose adherents make exactly the same kind of statement?”

    Actually, that’s not even slightly what I was saying. Your inserted text is not what I conveyed. I’m not putting those words in the mouth of the one who witnessed the miracle, but the one who performed it. Your inserted text should have said, “a man who has just performed”, not “a man who has witnessed”. So, the implication of transmitting accurate moral truths is being implied for the one given the power to perform the miracle.

    I reject the others because they don’t have the kind of supporting evidence that Christianity does. There’s a pretty clear contrast between Jesus’ resurrection, and all of the evidence supporting it, and Joseph Smith’s golden plates, or Muhammad’s mysteriously-dictated Koran.

    “I have to point out that you have not given me any logical or empirical reasons…”

    Point taken and agreed to, for two good reasons. First, those reasons themselves are not the topic at hand, and I’m not interested in discussing a dozen topics at once. Hence, the “quick and rough”. It’s a valid question, and I gave an answer that’s deliberately left the details for another conversation. We can debate the merits, but that leads to the second reason. Specifically, I’m pretty sure that someone as well-educated as yourself has already seen and heard much discussion of those evidences already. At least that’s the impression you’re giving. That, combined with your doubt that objective truths can be transmitted in such a fashion makes it pointless to discuss. You don’t accept the evidence; I’ll agree to disagree rather than discuss when there’s no reasonable hope of consensus.

    “Totalitarian regimes famously redefine words in complete opposition to the word’s previously understood meanings.”

    How do you know? On what basis can you say that? Of course, you can, because you know what the word meant before the regime changed it. You know what the cultural and literary context of the word was, that’s why you say, “re-defined”. That some dictator in 2008 wants to change the colloquial meaning of “liberty” to include being thrown into a chain gang doesn’t go back in time and change the Declaration of Independence into a plea for forced labor. The conveyed meaning of the word, “liberty”, that Jefferson wrote meant what it meant.

    Like it or not, words are used to express ideas, and the idea expressed is not changed because language changes. Part of rational interpretation of scriptures is understanding the root contexts behind them. A word cannot validly be infinitely stretched to mean anything at all. It is symbolic of an idea being conveyed. Changing the definition of the symbol does not change the original idea.

    For that reason, I’m not agreeing that language can be interpreted with the kind of subjectivity that you’re suggesting. If you really think that language is as subjective as your characterization, then how can we ever know what anyone meant, ever? If some fascist state chose to “re-define” the phrase, “Late Antiquity” to mean the 1960’s, would it change what you actually learned in those courses? Would it actually change the meaning of what you said? No – what you said is what you said, and no amount of re-definition after the fact can change it.

    No, I’m not suggesting that Jordan grounds his morality in his preferences, philosophically speaking. He grounds it in some unspecified capital-M-morality. Unfortunately, that only works on paper, so to speak. He’s claiming that all he has to do in order to correctly apprehend true morality is to “feel” it. Functionally, there is no difference between that and a person who says, “I make my own morality, based on what I feel.” Jordan would have no way to know if his “feelings” are wrong – “feelings” are all he has. There is no valid check. Therefore, feelings are the final judge, within his own mind, of morality.

    That’s why I said that I agree with his stance that objective morals simply do exist, but I disagree in how they are apprehended. That they are grounded in God does not make them unreal or irrelevant. That they are related through language does not make then infinitely pliable.

  36. Medicine Man,

    Right, got your correction to my mistake on your quote. (I thought you were saying that a man who claims he had witnessed a miracle, obviously. That was my misreading of what you had originally intended.) As I believe I’ve said before, witnessing a miracle would certainly be persuasive to me, whereas someone else’s claim to having witnessed a miracle is not.

    But it remains that you haven’t demonstrated that you can appeal directly to something that is objective. Scripture uses language which must be interpreted and is relative. Unless I am misunderstanding you again, you did not witness a miracle directly but must rely on hearsay. (Hearsay, of course, is so unreliable that it can’t be used as evidence in a U.S. court.) Those are the two examples I see you providing, and neither is objective.

    You wrote:

    There’s a pretty clear contrast between Jesus’ resurrection, and all of the evidence supporting it, and Joseph Smith’s golden plates, or Muhammad’s mysteriously-dictated Koran.

    I think all these events share the same elements of the incredible and fabulous. But you are right; there’s no point in our arguing it.

    I agree that there are objective things to which words apply. I said that words are relative, and you do not seem to be disagreeing with that. I am agreeing with Jordan that appealing directly to Morality through our moral sense appears to be, by applying Occam’s Razor, preferable to appealing to morality through subjective and relativistic Scripture.

    I did not ever say that morals are infinitely pliable because they can be related through language; I said that, contrary to your assertion, Scripture is not an objective source to which you can appeal, because language must be interpreted subjectively and the selection of canonical texts is a relative process.

    I do, as an aside, believe that those who wrote the documents in the Bible used their moral sense to write the parts of it that felt best prescribed Morality. It is conceivable that our moral sense would incline us to assemble morals that, for instance, enshrined the Golden Rule. Just as we used our math sense to construct complex mathematical systems, such as geometry and algebra and calculus, we used our innate moral sense to formalize family, tribal, and societal behaviors in a constantly evolving description, however imperfect, of a part of reality called Morality.

    Or not. I just think that it’s plausible, and everyone, even good Christians, should consider it as a possibility.

    PS. Jordan. Sorry you have to opt out; I enjoyed very much reading your entries. Hope to see you around.

  37. Tony,

    Hearsay, of course, is so unreliable that it can’t be used as evidence in a U.S. court.

    Interesting that you would mention that type of standard. One of the most respected legal minds in history wrote an analysis of the Gospels from the standpoint of The Rules of Evidence (Greenleaf, “The Testimony of the Evangelists”). Those works contain descriptions of miracles, and it would be a little careless to dismiss them just as “hearsay”.

    Not that I agree with your assessment, but using your terms: I can “appeal” to an objective standard as directly as is possible without actually relying on nothing but myself. Terms can get a little muddled, so I’m noting that there’s a difference between “subject to interpretation”, “subjective”, and “relative”. All written words are subject to interpretation by definition, but we can still have contracts. It’s still possible to recognize specific meaning in written words.

    So, this:

    I am agreeing with Jordan that appealing directly to Morality through our moral sense appears to be, by applying Occam’s Razor, preferable to appealing to morality through subjective and relativistic Scripture.

    …seems very inconsistent on your part. Unless you’re prepared to do what Jordan could not (or at least did not, in fairness, since he’s otherwise occupied) and define the properties of “capital-M-morality”, then you don’t even have an objective standard to appeal to in the first place. I realize that’s not your own view, but I think you can see my point. Debating who has a better grasp of objective morality is senseless when one side can’t codify it.

    Even more inconsistent is the idea that – according to the way you’re arguing – personal “feelings” are less subjective than written words. I think it’s obvious that human passions have a tendency to sway our moral judgment. I think we can agree that some people can be very sincerely wrong in their moral feelings. With that in mind, are we supposed to consider our own “feelings” more reliable than a tenet written in specific words? I don’t see how you can claim that perceiving morality via feeling is somehow more objective that doing so via scripture or some other external source.

    At the same time, why can’t I just apply Occam’s Razor in the same (incorrect) way, and claim that appealing to “morality” as something outside of myself is an unnecessary step? Can’t I define morality, outright, on the basis of my feelings, rather than “unnecessarily” act as though I’m pinging some ethereal ‘other’?

    I’m willing to consider any possibility. In brief (again, off-topic), I follow the Coleridge philosophy:

    “He who begins by loving Christianity more than Truth, will proceed by loving his sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”

    Two truths can’t contradict, so if my faith is in something true, it has nothing to fear from discovering truths I didn’t know before. I don’t take things lightly, or with credulity. What I believe, I believe for good reasons. Inference to best explanation, taken in a holistic sense, including all angles and implications, is the reason I have confidence in the Christian view of morality.

  38. Tony,

    (Hearsay, of course, is so unreliable that it can’t be used as evidence in a U.S. court.)

    But documentary evidence is admitted in court. Courts listen to witnesses, too. We are relying on documentary evidence recorded by witnesses. Nothing unusual about that.

  39. Tom,

    I’m not a lawyer so I don’t want to overstep here. But, regarding hearsay, thereis this on the theory of hearsay:

    The theory of the rule excluding hearsay is that assertions made by human beings are often unreliable; such statements are often insincere, subject to flaws in memory and perception, or infected with errors in narration at the time they are given. The law therefore finds it necessary to subject this form of evidence to “scrutiny or analysis calculated to discover and expose in detail its possible weaknesses, and thus to enable the tribunal (judge or jury) to estimate it at no more than its actual value” (Wigmore on Evidence §1360).

    Three tests are calculated to expose possible weaknesses in a statement:

    1. Assertions must be taken under oath;
    2. Assertions must be made in front of the tribunal (judge or jury); and
    3. Assertions must be subject to cross-examination.

    and

    Assertions not subject to these three tests are (with some exceptions) prohibited insofar as they are offered testimonially (for the truth of what they assert).

    The Federal Rules of Evidence defines a statement as an oral or written assertion or nonverbal conduct of a person, if the conduct is intended by the person as an assertion. Even written documents made under oath, such as affidavits or notarized statements, are subject to the ‘hearsay rule’.

    But I don’t want to argue this right now — it’s beyond the point. Medicine man was claiming that Scripture is objective, which is a much higher (and impossibly difficult) standard.

    As I said, I’m not a lawyer. But Greenleaf died in the mid 1800’s and I’m guessing he’s not going to be as up to date on case law as he could be were he alive today.

    By the way, I have to point out that you wrote a classic logical fallacy above — documents can be admitted. Testimony can be admitted. It does not follow that documents are testimony.

  40. Medicine Man,

    Interesting topic.

    I don’t know if I’m sure what you mean by defining the properties of Morality. (If you believe, as you say that you do, that you can apprehend objective Morality, then I have to ask you what it’s properties are.) I was trying to make a finer point, that if the objective Morality exists that you say exists, then our moral sense is preferable to subjective and relative means of access.

    But if I was to take a stab at the properties of morality I’d venture that it would include, to start with, fairness and reciprocity. One could say that we use our moral senses of empathy, revulsion, anger, shame, etc. to gauge something’s Morality.

    I was saying that if objective Morality exists, Jordan’ method of access – using our moral sense – seems better. If Morality doesn’t exist, then all morality is relative, and your assertions becomes moot.

    You wrote:

    Even more inconsistent is the idea that – according to the way you’re arguing – personal “feelings” are less subjective than written words.

    I don’t think that this is true. We use words to describe our apprehension of morality. Our moral sense leads to emotional responses, which of course are hard to describe. As well, there is the problem of varied moralities throughout time and place, of sociopaths, etc. Of course, there are also variations in our other senses as well.

    Anyway, I owed you that (admittedly half-baked) response. I’m busy now as well, but I’m not begging out – just slowing down.

  41. Tony, this is a pretty interesting topic…

    The early course of Christianity did indeed involve a very practical form of cross-examination and oath taking. The cross examination was by skeptics and opponents. The oath taking was in this form: the witnesses were willing to die for what they claimed was true. This fulfills the function of an oath, even better (I’m sure you’ll agree) than putting one’s hand on a Bible and repeating a verbal formula under threat of punishment for perjury.

    If I made this logical fallacy:

    By the way, I have to point out that you wrote a classic logical fallacy above — documents can be admitted. Testimony can be admitted. It does not follow that documents are testimony.

    … then I miscommunicated. I did not mean to say,

    1. Documents can be admitted
    2. Testimony can be admitted
    3. Therefore documents are testimony.

    But I don’t think I did say that, either. I said that documents are evidence and (with proper attestation) they are admissible in court as evidence.

    My point had to do with hearsay, and specifically this: when we read eyewitness testimony of Jesus, we are not evaluating hearsay evidence, we are evaluating eyewitness testimony, in documentary form.

  42. But I don’t want to argue this right now — it’s beyond the point. Medicine man was claiming that Scripture is objective, which is a much higher (and impossibly difficult) standard.

    Impossibly difficult?

    I might agree with you, actually, but I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean by that standard.

  43. Tony,

    Just a few quick things (no pile-on intended):

    Tom beat me to the point about “cross-examination” and the witnesses’ willingness to die for what they were testifying to. It’s hard to argue that they didn’t believe it – and they saw those things first-hand. There’s also quite a bit of archaeological evidence, even from ‘hostile’ sources, that supports their point of view. We can’t assume that a source can’t be cross-checked just because it’s old.

    Greenleaf’s work holds up today, so far as I know. The minutiae of what is or is not admitted in a court today may be different, but I’m not so sure that the fundamentals have changed. The cited work deals with those fundamentals.

    I’m not sure what standard you’re willing to accept, but I’d be curious as to what makes a modern contract or legal record objective in a sense that scripture cannot be. If it’s not possible to understand the meaning behind written words, what good are written words at all?

    I can define the properties of objective morality, in the sense that I can relate unchanging, objective tenets to you, which are not influenced by my opinion or preferences. They are rooted in a way that prevents me from adapting them according to my own whims. Anyone who believes in objective morality ought to be able to do the same, else their morals are not ‘objective’.

    I’m saying that any morality that’s apprehended purely through feelings cannot be objective in practice. Even in your own argumentation, I think you’re forced to admit that there’s at least an element of objectivity involved in writing something down. I also have a moral sense, and embrace its importance – but not its supremacy.

    As you said, varied “moralities” are a problem – for the relativist and the person who thinks objective morality can be apprehended only through “feelings”. In either case, there’s no internally consistent way for them to call any moral proposition “more moral” than any other. How do you trump subjective feelings with equally subjective feelings?

    Those variations are exactly why legitimate objective morality has to be codified in a way not subject to the kind of variations that feelings are. I’m just not understanding how one can argue that moral statements in written form are somehow more subjective or relative than those grounded purely in feelings.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about your view of morals. I’m sure you’re aware of attempts to do the same before…and I don’t think there’s an answer yet that solves the problems that we’ve raised.

  44. when we read eyewitness testimony of Jesus, we are not evaluating hearsay evidence, we are evaluating eyewitness testimony, in documentary form.

    Hi Tom, allow me to jump in?

    Does anyone have authoritative principles or links to same as to how documentary evidence of eyewitness testimony might be evaluated in court? A quick google didn’t return much useful. Importantly, I’d love to know *why* some documents might be admissible/inadmissible or evaluated differently than others.

  45. Paul,

    Simon Greenleaf’s work is about the best place to start, so far as it pertains to this issue. He covered the whole scope of analysis of the Gospels (just the Gospels) from the legal perspective in his “Testimony…” work.

    I could refer to his “Treatise on the Law of Evidence”, but I’m not sufficiently masochistic enough to have cracked that one open yet.

  46. Tom, you wrote:

    “…when we read eyewitness testimony of Jesus, we are not evaluating hearsay evidence, we are evaluating eyewitness testimony, in documentary form.”

    I understand that to be the Christian position. And since you assert what we are evaluating, I will do the same: The Gospels were written during an extraordinarily superstitious and credulous time. (We must accept that either people in the past would easily “believe” any fantastic thing, or that the accounts of the various sects are untrue.)

    Someone like Greenleaf attributes differences in the Gospels to the normal variation among eyewitnesses. This is an assumption, and one that is belied by the documentary record – there is no evidence that the earliest Gospel, Mark, was written within a generation of Jesus’s lifetime, and the others almost certainly come decades and as much as a century later.

    Greenleaf’s explanation of witness variation is maybe an interesting legal exercise, but it doesn’t appear that he historically vets his documents – he starts with the (mistaken) assumption that the Gospels were written by witnesses and goes from there. But another (I think far more plausible) explanation is that there was intense religious competition among sects – Jews, Christians, Gnostics, and other ancient religions that are no longer followed, and differences in the Gospels are most likely changes made during this time to appeal to the various religious communities and their concerns. Matthew, Luke, and John are variations on Mark that appeal to that communities concerns – what they need to believe.

    Of course, we’re talking about ancient history. No one can claim to “know” with certainty the exact truth of events that happened just 2,000 years ago among people with whom we share so few sensibilities. But my description above is possible (I’d say it’s more probable), and certainly can’t be dismissed as so unlikely that yours is the only tenable premise.

  47. Tony,

    I understand that to be the Christian position. And since you assert what we are evaluating, I will do the same: The Gospels were written during an extraordinarily superstitious and credulous time. (We must accept that either people in the past would easily “believe” any fantastic thing, or that the accounts of the various sects are untrue.)

    Even back then,
    1. They knew where babies come from.
    2. They knew that dead people stay dead.
    3. They knew that just speaking to sick persons’ illnesses didn’t make them go away time after time.
    4. They knew you can’t feed thousands of people with the lunch one boy brought.
    5. They knew you can’t walk on water.

    Credulous? Not to that extent!

    Now, other religions’ miracle claims are of a different sort, in that there is no particular claim that their events happened in real history; or if there is such a claim, there is no credible supporting evidence for it. The New Testament has strong documentary, internal, external, and archaeological support for its overall historicity.

    Of course, we’re talking about ancient history. No one can claim to “know” with certainty the exact truth of events that happened just 2,000 years ago among people with whom we share so few sensibilities. But my description above is possible (I’d say it’s more probable), and certainly can’t be dismissed as so unlikely that yours is the only tenable premise.

    I agree. It’s not the only tenable premise, and it’s not something we can know with certainty based on the historical evidences. It is a probability decision one must make, based on how one assesses the chances, for instance, that Christianity arose on the basis of fables concocted in the face of hostile evidence in the first generation after Christ (and other similar judgments one must make).

    You can come to a different decision on these things, certainly, but I think the most likely one is that the reports we have in the Bible are accurate.

  48. Tom, what about Tony’s primary point that it is an assumption that the eyewitness accounts purported in the Bible are such?

    That is, we have a document in which people say they witnessed certain incredible things. On what basis should we believe those people? I think you’re believing them because other non-Biblical information and evidence (ranging from the ideas behind ID, to personal revelation, etc) supports what they say. Also, I think you’d say that because other (historical, non-religious) information in the same document checks out correctly, that increases our confidence in the religious, miraculous claims of the document.

    These bases, however, seem ancillary. What is the evidence or factor inherent in the nature of the document itself that leads us to believe it beyond external corroboration? I don’t mean to make that a rhetorical question, as if I automatically believe that the answer must be empty.

  49. Tom,

    You wrote

    Even back then,
    1. They knew where babies come from.

    If by that you mean they knew that the divine were born of virgin births then yes, I agree.

    The gentile cultures, religions and mythologies during the time of Christian beginnings around the first century CE were filled with stories of divine incarnation. For example in the Greek myth, Perseus was born of the virgin Danae. Danae was conceived by the God Zeus who took the form of a shower of gold. In another Greek myth Dionysius was born of the virgin Semele. Semele was impregnated by Zeus with a bolt of lightning.

    And in almost all the popular mystery religions [a] around the Meditteranean, the beliefs of the uneducated masses, the divine personalities are born of virgins. For example, Mithra, an derivative of the Persian sun-worship, whose cult rivalled Christianity during the first few centuries of its existence, was conceived when God himself, in the form of light, entered a virgin. Phoenecian mythology had Adonis being born of the virgin Myrrh. Parthenogenesis was also the explanation for the birth of the Phyrgian deity, Attis from his mother Cybele.

    The popular culture also ascribed to many famous men miraculous, divine and, sometimes, even virgin birth. Thus the emperor Augustus, the reigning sovereign during the time of Jesus, was reputedly miraculously begotten when a snake descended upon his mother in the temple of Apollo. So too, Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, was born of a vestal virgin.

  50. Paul,

    What is the evidence or factor inherent in the nature of the document itself that leads us to believe it beyond external corroboration?

    Why is such a thing necessary? If the document is supported by a large amount of other source material, why is there a need for the document to be “believed beyond external corroboration”? If we want to get legalistic, no document used now is ever “believed beyond external corroboration”. There’s always something outside the document that it corresponds to which demonstrates its legitimacy.

    Don’t forget that the Gospels were written in a way that encouraged debunking by those so inclined. Showing Jesus’ body, or bringing out a person who knew Him who would testify to Him being a fraud, or getting an apostle to admit to being a liar…all of these were available to the people of that day. No offense to anyone, but assuming that ancient people were stupider than we are, or less capable of checking out testimony, is unwise and untrue.

    So, this is true:

    I think you’re believing them because other non-Biblical information and evidence (ranging from the ideas behind ID, to personal revelation, etc) supports what they say. Also, I think you’d say that because other (historical, non-religious) information in the same document checks out correctly, that increases our confidence in the religious, miraculous claims of the document.

    But it’s also true that sources of equal antiquity bear out what is being related, and no discoveries as of yet disprove them. Case in point, the writings of the Pharisees of that time refer to Jesus as a sorcerer. That’s important – they acknowledge that He did supernatural things, that many people were swayed by them; but they don’t call Him a magician or slight-of-hand man (David Copperfield didn’t invent the industry of illusion). They would have if they could have – instead, they attributed His power to Satan. That’s a good indicator that even sources hostile to His message acknowledged that things happened which were inexplicable by other means.

    It also needs to be pointed out that The Gospels are not the earliest Christian writings. Many skeptics seem to make the mistake of thinking that the four Gospels were the origin of Christian beliefs. They’re a record of them, by those who witnessed the events that occurred. Paul’s letters (e.g. to Corinth) pre-date the Gospels. Basic Christian tenets can be traced to two years after the resurrection, on the basis of Paul’s letters. And, the validity of those beliefs are overtly hinged on the fact that these miraculous events really did occur.

    With that in mind, consider a passage like 2 Peter 1:16-18. This from a man willing to suffer torture, imprisonment, and eventual execution for a refusal to recant his eyewitness testimony.

  51. I believe we’re getting sidetracked here and would be happy to go back to morality, but, on the other hand, this is a related topic so I’m fine with establishing our positions.

    Medicine Man, you wrote:

    Don’t forget that the Gospels were written in a way that encouraged debunking by those so inclined. Showing Jesus’ body, or bringing out a person who knew Him who would testify to Him being a fraud, or getting an apostle to admit to being a liar…all of these were available to the people of that day.

    This doesn’t seem at all correct to me. That would be like saying that the Gospels hit the presses and the following morning everyone with the latest edition could go check things out for themselves.

    The history of Christianity supports the contention that the Gospels were written a generation and more after the death of Jesus, and that the religion did not begin to flourish until after that time. In other words, Christianity did not spread until after the ability to debunk was stripped by time. You can disagree, but you can’t say that this is implausible.

    No offense to anyone, but assuming that ancient people were stupider than we are, or less capable of checking out testimony, is unwise and untrue.

    No one has said ancient people were stupider than we are. But reading ancient documents we are left with two choices: either people recorded lies (or stated things in fantastic terms not intended to be taken literally), or the people of that time were far more credulous than they are today.

    Case in point, the writings of the Pharisees of that time refer to Jesus as a sorcerer. That’s important – they acknowledge that He did supernatural things, that many people were swayed by them; but they don’t call Him a magician or slight-of-hand man (David Copperfield didn’t invent the industry of illusion).

    And this refers to my earlier point – the problem of language. Medicine Man, do you know the history of the Pharisee’s document? Was it written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek? Does the original Hebrew exist? What were the differences in dialect from the time of the original text and previous ones? The reason I ask is because “sorcerer” is a difficult and imprecise word in English, and I’ll guess that the English word you use is not a perfect substitute for its antecedents. In other words, your using a difficult English word that is at least one translation away from an ancient language whose meaning has certainly changed from its time. That’s a pretty fragile hook from which to hang outside corroboration of divine powers.

    Basic Christian tenets can be traced to two years after the resurrection, on the basis of Paul’s letters.

    Really? I believe that most biblical scholars have Paul’s first letter dating from 30 – 50 AD. This would be, I have to add, a little outside the time to go searching for the body, etc.

  52. MM, I’m glad you helped to clarify the question, which I would phrase in the following manner:

    If in document A, eyewitness B says that he saw C, and we have evidence beyond the document that C occurred, does that mean/prove/support that B saw C?

    It seems to me that evidence that C happened beyond the document only shows that C happened, not that B saw C, strictly speaking.

    I think the issue is that multiple pieces of evidence can support each other, but not in thin air. That is, at some point, one or more pieces of evidence must be valid on their own internals, and not because other pieces of evidence merely say the same thing happened.

    assuming that ancient people were stupider than we are, or less capable of checking out testimony, is unwise and untrue.

    I would not bet on either cultures’ ability to be refrain from the worst of credulity. We may have travelled a bit further, but we still have a long way to go.

  53. Tony,

    That would be like saying that the Gospels hit the presses and the following morning everyone with the latest edition could go check things out for themselves.

    Not to be overly blunt about this, but which model of scripture are we considering here? Were the current gospels based on some prior source, or totally original? Some of these arguments are picking and choosing which one is the case. The Gospels were not the earliest Christian writings about the topics at hand. It’s simply not the case that no one was aware of these claims until someone wrote them down. And, there are some scholars who argue that all four Gospels were written before 70 AD, within the lifetimes of those who witnessed His miracles, not just the Apostles themselves.

    I’m not sure if the difference matters, but “flourish” is a pretty subjective term. That Christianity didn’t “flourish”, whatever that means, does not mean that it didn’t exist. Who was Nero persecuting in the 50’s and 60’s AD? Paul’s own testimony would be an example. He’s conveying the same message about Jesus that the Gospels do. As you noted, scholarly records indicate his letters to be within twenty years or so of the crucifixion. Scholars will also note that that’s not enough time for legend and tall tale to wipe out a solid core of historical truth.

    Paul’s letter to Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) contains the core miraculous claims of the Resurrection. Based on what we know of Paul’s life, the dating of that letter, his earliest interaction with the church, etc, we have a statement of information that was passed along to Paul within two years or so of the crucifixion. It’s a bit strained to say that all of the miraculous claims of Christianity popped up in fables long after anyone could check on them.

    But reading ancient documents we are left with two choices: either people recorded lies (or stated things in fantastic terms not intended to be taken literally), or the people of that time were far more credulous than they are today.

    Both options, I note, assume a priori that such things could not have possibly happened. Isn’t there a third option that a truly objective, rational person ought to consider? That they wrote down what they actually saw in a truthful way? Some of your approach seems to come from the standpoint that these things cannot be true, could not have happened, etc. So, the only possible explanations are as you stated above.

    If your view is simply that there is no possible evidence from that time that you’d ever accept (which it may not be), why discuss it at all? Whether it supports or refutes anything would be beside the point if absolutely none of it is worth considering anyway.

    The “sorcerer” is not just from the term, but the commentary associated with it. It’s a Talmudic writing, and you should be well aware of the jealously obsessive way those texts were preserved. Here again, words have conveyed meanings. They’re acknowledging Jesus doing amazing things that people followed Him for, and the only explanation they give is Satanic power (not trickery or credulity or legend). Once again, I have to wonder (given the above) if there’s much point in referencing other sources. Not that your questions are invalid, but I think you’re creeping towards a standard that precludes all possible evidence anyway.

  54. Paul,

    I would say that your scenario “supports” that B saw C. The fact that we have evidence suggesting that C happened makes B’s claim to have seen it all the more likely. A fisherman who says he saw a gigantic light and heard a huge noise while out at sea one day is your B and C. When he tells us it happened March 1st, 1954 in the North Pacific, we suddenly have an external corroboration for C (that was the first H-bomb test on Bikini). Maybe he wsaw it, maybe not, but the fact that it corresponds to an outside source so closely in time and kind makes his story much more likely.

    The eyewitness accounts in the Gospels are all the more supported because they are more specific, as are their corroborating external sources.

    So, evidence for C (by itself) is not necessarily evidence that B saw C. But, if what B says matches what some other source says about C, then it lends some additional credibility to B’s story.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this:

    “… at some point, one or more pieces of evidence must be valid on their own internals, and not because other pieces of evidence merely say the same thing happened.”

    I’m not sure how that would work. We don’t accept the idea that the Bible’s right “because the Bible says it is”. (Yes, I said “we” and I include myself) A text can’t self-verify in any meaningful way, can it? At some point, it has to connect to other sources, facts, or ideas for us to know whether or not it’s “valid”. I guess it also depends on what you mean by “valid” (Admissible in court? True? Beyond reproach?) I would say that the fact that other trustworthy pieces of evidence “say the same thing” is exactly what makes it valid.

    Don’t get me wrong, truth is truth whether or not anyone believes it. A truthful account that can’t be corroborated and no one believes is still truthful. The question here is one of trustworthiness. I think some of the criticisms being applied here, used consistently, would make most of what we claim to know of history (or even current events) unintelligible.

    I think you’re right that “the worst of credulity” is still a problem. Frankly, some of the attacks I see on Christianity and the Bible fit that description. Not here and now, per se, but I get a lot of arguments that are thoughtless and irrational, but people swallow them and spit them back out because they like their implications.

    I also think that the “credulity” problem has to be considered in light of what these witnesses were willing to do (or not do) based on their experiences. As I said, magicians, con artists and sleight-of-hand men have been around for forever. These people were absolutely convinced that only supernatural power could explain what was happening. And, please note, these weren’t parlor tricks. Jesus wasn’t bending spoons or reading tea leaves. Instantly curing skin diseases, blind eyes, and crippled legs, and bringing a man buried for four days back to life are not actions conducive to illusion and suspension of disbelief. If a person saw Jesus do those things and was willing to suffer anything rather than recant his claims, then the skeptic has to do a bit better than say, “ancient people were credulous” to explain it away.

  55. MM, regarding your idea of “support:” which supports which? Does the external evidence support the document, or does the document support the external evidence, or both?

    I’d say the former for this reason. The problem with a document is that one can’t poke or prod it much at all. That is, if I’ve got a living, breathing person, I can interview that person and poke and prod at their testimony in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of content that might shed light on whether their testimony is true or not. That is not a narrow situation, either, as if all one could do is to ask questions focused on a narrow reading of the issue. It’s a very broad possibility that presents itself, all sorts of interesting and pertinent information might be revealed.

    But none of that is possible with a document. Also, experiments can’t be run with a document (granted, experiments are not always pertinent/possible; but, still . . . .).

    The document forces one to take it or leave it, so to speak. On the other hand, the external evidence we’ve been talking about, I assumed to implicitly contain these other possibilities that increase it validity and reliability. So evidence that allows for critical investigation is primary. I think this, in a very roundabout way, is what I mean by “internals;” that is, the inherent nature of the evidence allows for critical poking, prodding, and examination. Documentation not so much.

    That’s why the document of the Bible, *apart from other corroboration,* is not such a good source. And if one disagrees with that other corroboration, then the whole thesis of Christianity will and should fall apart. Now, we probably disagree about that other corroboration. But note that that other more primary (presumably) corroboration is now the central, functional, determinative issue. This relegates the Bible to mere “supporting” status.

  56. Medicine Man,

    You wrote:

    Both options, I note, assume a priori that such things could not have possibly happened. Isn’t there a third option that a truly objective, rational person ought to consider? That they wrote down what they actually saw in a truthful way?

    Fair enough, and to a great extent I agree with your caution. When I referred to “ancient documents” I met all ancient documents, not just the biblical ones. Maybe I assume too much and that you consider these extra-biblical miracles of other gods and deities as having occurred as well?

    Is it possible that miracles occurred in the past and that they do not now for some reason? Granted, yes. I just find that suggestion highly less probable than my stated alternatives. And that is all I’m talking about here – the probabilities of past events.

    Is it possible that everything occurred exactly as described in the Bible? Yes, I will not rule it out. But knowing what I know of history, of human behavior, etc., I think that there are other, more plausible explanations, none of which include the miraculous. And my point is that I must suspend those things that I know to be true in order for me to find the story of the Evangelists convincing.

  57. Medicine Man,

    Sorry, running out of time. But I’d be curious how you can explain that it is Christianity’s corroborating evidence that explains its growth and acceptance, but the same cannot be said of Islam, Mormonism, etc. In other words, how is that so many people find these religion’s claims to be credible? Are they all simply credulous?

  58. Paul,

    I think “both” is the best answer as far as which supports which. There are some times when one source is clearly supervenient to another, but in most cases it’s like the legs on a stool. It’s not just this leg or that leg or the other leg, it’s the combination that makes it work. Critics and believers alike have a habit of forgetting that the scriptures are exactly (more or less) the kind of document that these other sources are. The gospels corroborate the externals as much as the other way around.

    Documents don’t offer us the same depth of potential discovery that a living person does. But, they also offer a repeatability and objectivity that people don’t offer, either. The text says what it says. A person can change their story – and what are you supposed to believe then? The person also has the ability to respond to the prodding and attempt to steer the discovery their way. Text can’t do that, either. Like anything else, both need some other “legs” to make that stool stand up. What exactly those legs are can vary quite a bit, but it’s really more of a logical necessity than anything else. As you noted about credulity, people don’t have to cross-check anything.

    Experiments, in this case, can be run from a historical / archaeological perspective. Be careful how you approach this, because you’re moving in a direction that flirts with the destruction of “History” itself. No document is a “good” source apart from corroboration, in the sense you’re using it. If there is absolutely no corroboration at all, then we have no idea whether it’s fantasy or history. That’s a pretty unlikely scenario, though – just about everything is going to intersect reality, and the statements of other documents and facts, in enough places to make some determination of its accuracy and acceptability. Sometimes that’s in a secondary way (as with the Pharisaical source), sometimes it’s direct.

    So, neither is really the “primary”. Just because a text needs supporting evidence to be relied on (as does every work) does not mean that it’s “secondary”. The supporting evidence linkage between the text and other sources gives credibility, it does not erode authority.

  59. Tony,

    Maybe I assume too much and that you consider these extra-biblical miracles of other gods and deities as having occurred as well?

    No, but I also don’t take an all-or-nothing approach to claims of the miraculous or unlikely. If fifty men claimed to be a child’s father, and all of their stories were contradictory, but some of them shared a few details, I would be irrational to assume that they’re all wrong. Maybe they are, but the child has a father somewhere. The fact that there are competing claims from other sources doesn’t convince me that every source is wrong.

    As I said, I go by inference to best explanation. Obviously, you disagree, but I’m not sure in what way you’re approaching it, given what we’ve discussed. I look at the claims made by all sides, the evidence at hand, and come to the conclusion that the best explanation is precisely what the Bible describes. I think the arguments and evidence for the alternatives is much weaker than that for the scriptural accounts.

    I can think of some things that I would like to be true that I have to “suspend” to believe the Bible. I can think of some things that I am unsure of that I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt on. I can’t think of anything that I know – know – to be true that I have to jettison in order to believe. Perhaps you’re making the same distinction in different words, perhaps not.

  60. Tony,

    I’m not necessarily saying that the evidence was “the” reason for the growth of Christianity. The growth itself is sort of evidence, in a sense (you may have heard of the “impossible faith” hypothesis). I’m saying that the availability of more concrete evidence is one factor in its early growth, because the “leap of faith” is smaller, in a sense.

    A good historical look at the spread of other faiths says a lot about why they spread. I don’t want to make this a dissertation, and I’m sure you can find comprehensive sources to flesh out what I’m saying, but…In essence, Christianity alone grows in defiance of obstacles, and without societal enforcement. It survives careful scrutiny, and actually encourages it. Naturally, some people will believe (Christians included) on the basis of credulity. That some believe a truth credulously does not make it untrue. Only Christianity demonstrates an ability to gain believers when it’s examined intellectually and empirically, and when it’s persecuted. Other systems don’t have the ability to make that claim.

    Islam has always spread primarily through two methods: birth and conquest. That’s not a politically correct statement, but it’s a historical fact. The only time Islam has grown to dominate a culture or spread its influence is when it is forced on people at the point of a blade and/or when the population grows and passes it on to their children. There is not much emphasis on credibility so much as naked authority.

    Contrast that with Christianity. Only Christianity “flourishes”, as you might say, under persecution. The surest way to see the real gospel spread like wildfire, historically speaking, is to punish people for being Christians. The pretenders and the indifferent fall away, and the real believers are easier to make out. They multiply (spiritually) faster under persecution than not. That speaks to the truth of the Gospel message – when it’s really, truly lived out, it’s about as powerful and compelling as anything on earth. It’s also a testimony to its durability (the old hammer and anvil analogy).

    Mormonism fits the same mold as Jehovah’s Witnesses, SDA’s, etc. Those are what we’d call “aberrant” sects. Those have to be considered in a slightly different category because they’re climbing up the back of Christianity, and that lends them a lot of reflected credibility. They’re also frequently espousing the “everyone else got it wrong, we’re correcting those mistakes” position, which makes adherents reject counter-claims out of hand.

    What pseudo-science is to science, aberrant sects are to legitimate Christianity. The toughest falsehoods to counter are the ones that have a lot of truths mixed in with them, and that use a lot of ‘familiar’ concepts. Those kinds of sects tend to spread in a culture of general tolerance in combination with poor discipleship. When you clamp down on them, they don’t grow or spread. They either die or move to isolationism.

    There really is a difference in the way other faiths handle these evidential issues. Try talking to a Hindu or Buddhist scholar about empirical evidence. They won’t even try to defend their faith on that basis; in fact, they’ll encourage you to embrace the contradictions and impossibilities. The geographic / archaeological information in the Book of Mormon is empirically false; as compared to the Bible, which continues to be proven accurate in that regard. Christianity is unique in its overt and deliberate connection to known places, people, and times. Such claims from other faith systems are either vague or wrong. Only the Bible is specific and accurate in these areas.

    Islam has nothing to do with miracles. There are none in the Koran, Muhammad refused to perform them when asked. The earliest suggestions of miracles by Muhammad come in the 800’s or so, quite a contrast to miraculous claims of Christian preceding even the Gospels. Joseph Smith’s golden plate miracle couldn’t be corroborated when it happened, and neither could Muhammad’s witnessing of the dictation of the Koran. There is truly no empirical evidence indicating that these things actually occurred. On the other hand, raising Lazarus and feeding five thousand were at least “witness-able” events, and the preponderance of the evidence available suggests actual miracles as the most likely explanation for what occurred.

    Again, those weren’t subtle tricks or illusions He was performing. I can see the temptation to chalk up Joe-the-Rabbi’s “miracle” of pulling a denarius out of a Pharisee’s ear as credulity. I can see a story about what someone did in a cave all alone being embellished with impunity. How do you fake curing the blindness of a man who was born blind, whose parents said he was born blind, and who was healed instantly in front of a crowd? How do you lie about a man being physically raised from the dead and appearing to hundreds of people afterwards?

  61. MM, I think we truly disagree now. I don’t see how a document and other evidence can be equal legs of a stool (as vivid and effective as the analogy is, it’s still only an analogy).

    Consider these forms of evidence:

    1. a clay pot that is repeatedly and independently carbon-dated to 1000 B.C. (please forgive any technical impossibilities, you get the idea)

    2. a person who says they have carbon-dated a clay pot to 1000 B.C.

    3. a person from 1000 B.C. who says they have a clay pot that they made

    4. a book that says that person A made a clay pot in 1000 B.C.

    These are listed in order of descending evidentiary effectiveness (even though #3 is unlikely). Where will we draw the line between sufficient evidence and insufficient evidence to believe that a clay pot was made in 1000 B.C.? #4 is not sufficient, lacking other corroboration.

    I’m submitting that primary is roughly equal to sufficient. Documents are neither, and that doesn’t destroy history, as we have plenty of non-documentary evidence about history.

    Edited: I may revise that opinion about history, and I’m not sure doing so defeats my ultimate point anyway. More later.

  62. Paul,

    Maybe we disagree, maybe we’re just losing something in the transfer here.

    My point about the stool was that, in most cases, different pieces of evidence have a co-dependent relationship when it comes to telling us what is or is not valid. There is no single, solitary piece of evidence that tells us, with impeccable and absolute authority (as it applies in this conversation) that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. We know he did because of the collection of evidences which all harmonize about that action. If we look at every single piece of evidence totally devoid of the context of other pieces of evidence, then we’re forced to admit that none of them prove anything by themselves (in most cases).

    100% alone and de-contextualized, most pieces of evidence don’t tell us much we can be confident in. Looked at together, however, we can actually start to make some judgments about them. To be technical, every item of evidence that tells us anything only does so because of other evidence we can link it to. Context is inescapable, in that regard.

    I think you’re making some errors in your examination, if you’ll allow me:

    In #1, you referred to the clay pot being “repeatedly and independently” carbon-dated. Technically, those are all individual pieces of evidence. The reason you consider #1 the most effective is precisely because there are several sources agreeing with each other on that point (1000 BC). And, don’t forget, there’s the question of how you know that those tests got those results. You can’t reject them just because you didn’t see them or because the testers won’t congregate anywhere that the pot is being discussed. If you want to consider this pot’s date just as settled three years or thirty years from now, you’ll have to be willing to consider the written records of the testers as valid evidence.

    You don’t consider #2 as effective because there’s only one datum. That’s essentially my point about documentary and other sources – that agreement in various sources lends credibility to the point in question, all other things being equal. It is repeatable (in theory, unless the test destroys the ability to do more tests…what then?), so it’s true that it’s more reliable than some other forms of evidence.

    #4 may be insufficient, lacking other corroboration – but even then, you didn’t say that it’s totally insufficient. Having other corroboration shows it to be valid. So, if the book claims to be written by the person who made the pot (or someone who saw him make it), and we have evidence saying that the pot was in fact made by hand in 1,000 BC, then we’re building a case saying that all of those pieces of evidence are accurate.

    That’s how it works for all ancient documents, scripture included. When I say that I have confidence in the reliability of the Gospels, it’s precisely because of the corroborating evidence. The Pharisaical source is just one example. Remember that it’s a sort of accidental straw-man / stereotype that says that the Gospels are the only evidence supporting Christian faith. They give us the most details about Christ’s life, and where we have sources to check them with, we find evidence to support them (both in regards to natural and supernatural events).

    I’m submitting that primary is roughly equal to sufficient. Documents are neither, and that doesn’t destroy history, as we have plenty of non-documentary evidence about history.

    Editing that assessment would be good, because that’s not a good representation of historical studies. History and archaeology are justifiably considered “soft” sciences – not because they’re easy, but because they don’t have the same kind of repeatable, inarguable kind of characteristics that fields like chemistry and physics do. We can learn a lot by looking at grave sites, ruins, and other artifacts. But a huge portion of what we know about antiquity is based on writings. Documents are documents, whether they’re written on stone, clay, or papyrus.

    We use the “documentary” and “non-documentary” sources together…but in most cases, it’s the documentary sources that give us the best information. Finding a bunch of spears and shields in a mud field is fine. So is finding the remains of soldiers and horses. Obviously there was a battle. Nothing you find there is “sufficient” to tell you that the armies of Paulia and Medicino fought there over the sacred clay pot. On the other hand, even a single written description of that event found in the tomb of a general of Paulia from that time would be far more informative…but only because we found evidence to corroborate it. One just tells us there was a battle, the other gives us details that digging up remains can’t.

  63. MM, just a few points, I don’t have a lot of time.

    Perhaps we can agree about the stool. Clearly different pieces of evidence can be mutually supportive, that is, I think, your main point about the legs of the stool analogy. So good so far. But my point tries to dig into deeper detail. Can’t we differentiate and evaluate differently the different legs of the stool? maybe, upon investigation, it will turn out that some types of evidence are stronger than others (duh), so that the legs of the stool analogy only goes so far.

    I think I can accept some of your criticisms of my evidence typology. Let’s try this: give me your evidence typology, and let’s see how that goes.

  64. Medicine Man,

    I think you may be making blanket assertions of a wide range of extra-biblical corroboration for Jesus’ life that most scholars agree do not exist. As far as I know there is virtually no undisputed Roman or other reference to Jesus as the Gospels describe him. This is, of course, not proof that Jesus did not exist, but neither is there strong outside corroboration – the story of Jesus comes to us largely through the Gospels, three of which undoubtedly borrow from Mark, which itself was probably based on earlier works that don’t exist.

    Also, I think you might be failing to credit a biblical assertion with the thing it describes. When the Bible says there were 1,000 witnesses, that does not give us 1,001 (the bible plus the counted witnesses) points of corroborating testimony, but 1 – the bible. Say what you want about the accuracy of ancient histories, I don’t know of any historian who gives much credence to head counts. Everything from city sizes to combatants in a battle are famously, and for obvious reasons, inflated with dependable predictability.

    As for the Talmudic writings you refer to I don’t know this text. I found some reference here, http://dyneslines.blogspot.com/2008/10/jesus-in-talmud.html, but the accounts here are neither flattering to Jesus nor his Jewish documenters – it appears obvious that these accounts were written post-rise of Christianity, with the motivation to strip Christianity of its authority. (Again, if you can attribute the writings at this link as an attempt to diminish authenticity, as I believe they are, I point you to the possibility that Christian writings are probably a similar attempt to aggrandize and validate this authority.)

  65. Paul,

    I don’t have some set list of every possible type of evidence put in pre-set order. I’m certainly in agreement that different pieces of evidence can be more or less useful, evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I don’t really disagree with the four items you put forward, or the order you put them in. I just disagree with some of the assumptions you make about why that order is valid, or how binding that order has to be. I’m also cautiously considering how you might be trying to apply those criteria to scripture and other ancient documents. Mostly, I’m making a strong point that ‘documentary’ evidence has certain properties that allow it to pass along information that we can’t get from other sources; so we can’t treat it like an inferior form of evidence as a rule.

  66. Tony,

    That some sources dispute exactly who Jesus was is not the point, or a problem. The Pharisaical source I cited called him an instrument of Satan, after all. Even modern investigators will tell you that “reading between the lines” can tell you a lot. The evidence supporting the gospel version of events is stronger than that supporting the hostile version of those events; that makes intersecting themes (like Jesus’ association with supernatural occurrences) all the more useful as supportive items.

    Of course, a book’s claim to 1,000 witnesses is only one piece of data. In Paul’s (of 2008) example, he presumably has access to all of the repeated carbon tests, so his repeated tests are actually multiple data. But again, the historical context says a lot. If Paul (the apostle) is claiming that several hundred people saw Jesus in the flesh, and he makes that claim within two years or so of the crucifixion, and people at the time were already choosing to die rather than recant claims to seeing such things…it gets harder and harder to chalk the stories up to mere legend or credulity.

    One point of note – the sources claiming Jesus’ divinity and miraculous power (including claims of direct eyewitnesses) predate the sources that make more specific “authority diminishing” claims. They also don’t lend themselves to the kind of cross-checking that the positive sources did when they were written.

    That’s in some cases – I don’t know that it “appears obvious” that they were written so far after the fact (in some cases, I’m sure they were not). There’s nothing invalid about considering the possibility that the supportive sources were trying to fluff up Jesus…but as I said, the weight of the evidence does not support that as a plausible explanation.

    One other quick note – I almost never use the phrase, “no serious or credible scholar says…”, but I’m willing to use it when a person questions whether or not Jesus existed at all. I’m assuming you didn’t do so, per se (you’re being rhetorical). It’s worth noting though, that it’s one thing to rationally dispute the divine attributes of Jesus based on history. It’s on par with UFO sightings and Loch Ness Monster fanaticism to try to suggest that no such person even existed at all. I say all that because some (some) of the voices making derogatory historical arguments about Jesus’ divinity also try to go to the “never existed” extreme, and that gives good reason to question their objectivity.

  67. One more thing – AAHH! New color scheme! Change! I’m a Baptist – we fear change!

    Tom, you really have to be more sensitive to the spiritual needs of your readers. We Baptists freak out when we have to move one pew forward from “our” spot – and you’re just changing your website’s look all willy-nilly. Twice, I might add, in recent memory!

    Seriously, though, I think we’re starting to make the third left turn that brings us back to the starting line on evidence. I’m busy as well, but I might be interested in hitting up the morality issue, if someone has something new or interesting to add. Or, I’d be fine holding off until some other time, but for now I’ll leave the last word as far as the current line of conversation goes to y’all.

  68. Medicine Man,

    Just a couple of points / questions I’ll leave here related to your last post.

    You seem to have made an assumption that something supernatural must have occurred in the not so distant past. (You wrote: “If fifty men claimed to be a child’s father, and all of their stories were contradictory, but some of them shared a few details, I would be irrational to assume that they’re all wrong. Maybe they are, but the child has a father somewhere.”)

    Except if there’s no child. Lots of things did occur in the past – cities were built, the pyramids were made, battles were fought, etc. We know this (as much as we can) because these events offer us multiple points of corroboration. Divine occurrences of the past, on the other hand, and for reasons that we can only speculate on, offer us only instances of personal testimony. There is no evidence of a worldwide flood, no ark, no rock that remains suspended contra gravity, no unambiguous prediction, in short, no supernatural feat that has left a physical mark that we can judge with our own senses.

    In other words, you’re asking a lot to have me accept that something divine must have occurred in the past based on personal accounts alone. So I don’t think it’s just a matter of selecting the most plausible supernatural story – it’s a matter of deciding that something even happened.

    I guess it boils down to things like this: I believe that claims of UFO abductions aren’t evidence that UFO abductions must happen sometimes, but that some people are just kooks. In other words, I wonder if the basic separation between atheists and theists is skepticism about personal testimony. I just won’t take anyone’s word for it – you have to show me.

    You make several comments that assert that you have credible evidence for past events surrounding the decades immediately following Jesus’s death. I don’t want to quibble over these issues, but unless you have some trove of documents to which I am not privy I believe that none of these could not (more) reasonably be classified as anything more than hearsay and, more probably, invention post facto. (Of course, if you have some source that you think I might not be aware, of please let me know.)

    You wrote:

    One point of note – the sources claiming Jesus’ divinity and miraculous power (including claims of direct eyewitnesses) predate the sources that make more specific “authority diminishing” claims.

    That’s not so noteworthy, I think. Don’t debunkers chronologically follow promoters by definition?

    But as you said earlier I think it is time to take that 4th turn.

  69. Medicine Man,

    Getting back to the issue of morality I want to point out the following.

    You wrote:

    You’ve [Jordan] subconsciously defined your perception of morality as the only valid one.

    But it is you who have made these claims:

    The first and foremost thing that’s superior about using God’s morality is that it isn’t subject to my whims.

    I’m appealing to something that’s apprehended not only through my moral sense, but objective things like scripture and other forms of non-emotional revelation.

    My way, at least, isn’t subject to my own whims – whether I “feel” something is right or not, I can still apprehend it’s moral status consistently.

    So, it looks like you’re explicitly stating that your perception of morality is superior and objective, and by extension it is you who seems to be claiming that your perception of morality is the only valid one. (To be clear here, my own belief is that morality is almost certainly relative, although I can’t rule out Jordan’s position that there is an objective Morality.)

    But as I pointed out earlier, your perception of morality is accessible only through subjective interpretation and incredible supernatural claims; you have no rational way to make the claim that “your way” can access something that is objective, nor that the objective thing exists.

    In other word, I still do not see where you have rationally demonstrated your claim to superior morality.

  70. Tony,

    Jordan made two claims: A) morality is apprehended purely through feelings and B) my disagreement with his ‘perception’ of morality made me ‘handicapped’.

    In other words, Jordan was simultaneously saying that morality could only be grasped by subjective means; and that his subjective perception was still 100% obviously, undeniably better. By what means he can tell, I don’t know, given that he does not feel there is any external standard that can be appealed to (remember that he thinks ‘feelings’ are all that can be apprehended).

    I was (and am) challenging his ability to claim a better ‘perception’ when he has nothing to compare but feeling vs feelings.

    So, my apprehension of morality (not mine, but God’s, as I said) is at least somewhat ‘superior’ to his because it has a system of checks against it. That’s going to be the sticking point here, and if you’ll forgive a little bluntness, it’s the reason I’m not really interested in developing the point much further.

    In a nutshell, I think the moral tenets I follow have weight behind them in several forms. The empirical and other evidence behind the claims and miracles of Jesus contribute, as do the consistency they have with human experience. The reliable written form is also important. It’s the combination of demonstrated authority and written objectivity that I’m relying on when I choose to call God’s morality superior, not merely whether or not it happens to align with my preferences.

    We’ve agreed to disagree (I think) on historical evidence. We need to do the same on written language. You seem insistent on the idea that there is no objectivity whatsoever possible in written words (or at least your use of the argument suggests this). It’s also possible that you’re trying to make ad hoc excuses to reject the objective nature of scripture alone, while retaining it for modern documents or less controversial works.

    Either way, I don’t know how to argue this any more than I know how to argue with a person who’s committed to a belief in solipsism, and I don’t know that it would be fruitful to try. Interpretation of written language is not infinitely subjective; it is possible to glean specific meanings from literature. I don’t see how one can argue otherwise without wiping out ideas like contracts, textbooks, or all of recorded history itself.

    You’re bent on rejecting the possibility of any truth in the historical claims of the Bible, even if consistent application of that level of skepticism would make the study of history a farce. You’re equally bent on rejecting the possibility that objective ideas can be expressed through writing, even if consistent application of that level of skepticism would make law, education, and literature meaningless. We literally have no common ground from which to discuss. In fact, if written words were as subject to interpretation as you imply they are, I have to wonder why you’d engage in a conversation like this anyway – what reason is there to think that any knowable meaning could be conveyed?

    So, no offense, but at this point all I can do is shrug.

  71. Medicine Man,

    You made an assertion that your claims to morality are both superior and objective. If you want to argue exclusively with Jordan, then let me know and I won’t address you in a way that invites dialogue.

    I never said or implied that written language is infinitely subjective, but there is a reason we have things like lawyers, constitutional interpretation, religious schisms, literary criticism, etc. That’s because words are not objective. Words must be interpreted. That is not to say that words are not representational or accurate. My assertion is a very modest one – that words are not objective, and you therefore have not demonstrated that Scripture allows you to objectively apprehend Morality. Sorry, but you made the claim for objectivity, not me.

    Regarding moral superiority, you now hinge your claim on your morality having “a system of checks against it.” The problem there is that doesn’t distinguish your morality from Jordan’s (or mine, for that matter). We have laws, societal pressures, etc., all of which impose a “system of checks” against our own feelings and reasoned conclusions about morality. We all have a system of checks against our personal morality. So, there goes your distinguishing claim to moral superiority as well.

    Here’s the problem as I see it. Your overall claim to moral superiority is that you cannot rationally justify that your morality is based on something objective, and you cannot demonstrate that it is superior without being circular. (“My system of morality is better because it’s the only one that is moral.”)

    Now, at least Jordan is consistent with his assertion, because, unlike you he is not constrained by the Eurythro dilemma, and he could propose to demonstrate how Morality itself can be apprehended objectively. Like I said, I don’t know how he can do this so I am not convinced of that one either.

    Your last paragraph is another litany of straw dog aspersions. I do think that it’s interesting, though, that you seem to have an underlying conviction that subjectivity and relativism make interaction meaningless.

    So, as a result of this and other debates, I, too must shrug and simply say that I am becoming convinced that a Theist assertion of grounded, objective morality is indeed a specious one.

  72. Props, Tony. You’re got some serious patience & tenacity:-)

    But I feel obligated to jump in briefly to defend myself…

    MedicineMan wrote: Jordan made two claims: A) morality is apprehended purely through feelings

    I did not make this claim. I said that morality is apprehended through our moral sense. Our moral sense is no more based on “feelings” than our sense of hearing or sight, or, more aptly, our apprehension of mathematical & logical axioms.

    By what means he can tell, I don’t know, given that he does not feel there is any external standard that can be appealed to (remember that he thinks ‘feelings’ are all that can be apprehended).

    I said quite clearly that there is an external standard: Morality itself. Asking for a more fundamental standard (which is what you seem to be doing) is like asking someone to prove an axiom. Morality (in terms of individual moral propositions, at any rate) is basic.

    So, my apprehension of morality (not mine, but God’s, as I said) is at least somewhat ‘superior’ to his because it has a system of checks against it.

    First of all, why should we believe that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate? Secondly, why should we expect your apprehension of “God’s morality” to be any more reliable than our direct apprehension of morality? I brought these points up earlier, and you guys waffled. I’m asking you to provide cogent arguments (not vague references to the “objectivity” of scripture, etc.) that will convince us that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate, and that we should trust our apprehension of God’s apprehension of morality more than our direct apprehension of morality.

    In a nutshell, I think the moral tenets I follow have weight behind them in several forms. The empirical and other evidence behind the claims and miracles of Jesus contribute, as do the consistency they have with human experience. The reliable written form is also important. It’s the combination of demonstrated authority and written objectivity that I’m relying on when I choose to call God’s morality superior, not merely whether or not it happens to align with my preferences.

    How exactly do miracles and “objectivity” count as evidence of God’s moral superiority; and, more importantly, how do they lend support to your supposed apprehension of God’s apprehension of morality?

    Basically, here’s what I think your argument boils down to:

    P1. God’s apprehension of morality is more reliable ours.
    P2. God is always truthful.
    P3. God claims that M is true, where M is a coherent set of moral propositions.
    P4. N, our translation of M, is semantically equivalent to M.
    P5. Our apprehension of P1-P4 (not to mention our understanding of N) is more reliable than our apprehension of morality.
    C. Therefore, N is more reliable, as a source of moral truth, than our apprehension of morality.

    You haven’t given us reasons to accept any of your argument’s premises, much less all of them. And there’s the matter of N’s applicability & exhaustiveness. What exactly does N have to say about transvestites, marijuana, gun control, censorship, war, cloning, birth control, etc.? N is incomplete, mostly irrelevant, vague, and, in places, outright contradictory; which shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose, given that its a (probably imperfect) translation of ancient hearsay. Why on earth should I take it more seriously than my direct apprehension of morality? Would you take me seriously if I argued, as follows, that the sky is pink?:

    P1. The Invisible Pink Unicorn’s apprehension of the sky’s color is more reliable than ours.
    P2. The IPU is always truthful.
    P3. As recorded anonymously on the Internet, in conjunction with a whole bunch of less controversial historical facts, the Invisible Pink Unicorn claims that the sky is “Plaargh.”
    P4. “Pink” is an accurate translation of “Plaargh.”
    P5. Our apprehension of P1-P4 is more reliable than our apprehension of the sky’s color.
    C. Therefore, the sky is pink.

  73. Tony,

    Since most of your arguments regarding morality have dealt with Jordan’s statements, I responded to what Jordan stated. If you didn’t want to discuss his ideas, then you shouldn’t have discussed his ideas.

    Your assertion is not modest at all – you’re disagreeing with my premise that written words can convey a moral premise in an objective way. That words are interpreted subjectively is not a problem for me, because rational people realize that that interpretation can only go so far. I don’t hear people arguing that we can’t really trust the conditions of a contract, since written words must be subjectively interpreted.

    As I said, I don’t think you’re making an application of these principles to everything else in the same way that you are the Bible. Law needs lawyers and such, not because we can’t ever really know what the laws are saying, but because we need to be sure what in fact it is saying. That’s what theologians do, in part.

    We all have a system of checks against our personal morality.

    No, you don’t. At least, you haven’t hinted at one here. What system of checks are you going to describe that I can’t write off as irrelevant on account of it being based in some slightly subjective perception? That was part of my point before: if you’re going to reject the objectivity that written words bring to the transmission of that idea, you cannot coherently argue that something even more subject to interpretation is somehow more objective.

    Your “here’s the problem as I see it” paragraph is incoherent. You might have had a cut-paste snafu, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t make enough sense to reply to.

    Jordan was asked to demonstrate how he could objectively apprehend morality through purely subjective means (a “moral sense”). He still hasn’t (see below). Don’t you see how strained your criticism is getting? He could “propose” to “demonstrate” how? So, he can suggest the possibility that he could suggest an answer, and that’s more convincingly objective than me pointing towards a particular codified set of morals?

    Subjectivity, within reason, as well as a limited amount of relativism, can be compatible with rational discussion. My criticisms, however, are not straw men. You’re not applying your criticism of the objectivity of scriptural ideas to anything else. You’re totally rejecting the idea that there’s anything objective to be gleaned from scripture – otherwise, you wouldn’t disagree that there’s at least something objective about the written word.

    I have no problem agreeing to disagree. What you’ve demonstrated is that you’re adamant on rejecting scriptural historicity and objectivity in ways you’d never apply to other fields. That’s pretty specious.

  74. Jordan,

    “…I said that morality is apprehended through our moral sense. Our moral sense is no more based on “feelings” than our sense of hearing or sight, or, more aptly, our apprehension of mathematical & logical axioms.”

    We can argue semantics all day, but the point remains valid. People can have flawed vision, and flawed mathematical reasoning. I can determine who is right or wrong in those cases based on objective, external, fixed definitions and sources. Even with the semi-subtle differences between logic and morality, your argument does not work.

    That brings me back to repeating the same challenge: tell me how, using the only valid means of apprehension of morality (our moral sense) can one person ever tell another person that they’re morally incorrect? You are so sure about your perception of morality that you think I’m handicapped: so how do you know, and what makes that valid? You painted yourself into a logical corner. If all we can use is our “moral sense”, then it’s just your sense vs. mine. If there’s something else, then apparently our “moral sense” isn’t enough.

    “First of all, why should we believe that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate?”

    I’ve already given an answer for this. Referring to the historical, empirical, logical, and other such evidence supporting the Gospel accounts of Christ is pretty cogent. If you don’t accept it, so be it. But don’t ignore it.

    “How exactly do miracles and “objectivity” count as evidence of God’s moral superiority; and, more importantly, how do they lend support to your supposed apprehension of God’s apprehension of morality?”

    Said in same arguments as above.

    Your P-points are badly flawed. God’s ‘perception’ of morals is not the issue. You’re projecting your own assumption that morals are defined apart from God’s nature. It’s not nearly so complex as you’re trying to make it. We have communicated moral precepts from an authority who has demonstrated the authority to make such edicts.

    Again, you can ignore the reasons I’ve given, but I’m not going to repeat them just because you say I never made them.

    Be careful what you ask for: does your apprehension of morality give you a totally comprehensive, black-and-white read on the morality of all possible events and actions, past, present and future, in some way that no person could ever disagree with? If not, then I guess your sense of morals is invalid, by your reckoning. Laws are not invalid merely because they sometimes need careful consideration to be applied correctly. Just because we need to carefully consider what “freedom of speech” means does not mean that it is meaningless…and that’s orders of magnitude more vague than Biblical moral statements.

    Likewise, be careful what silly metaphors you bring up, as well. IPU and FSM are textbook examples of shallow strawmen. If you really think those are reasonable responses to the kind of arguments that I’m making, then you have far too much to learn about logic, history, scripture, and theology to bother continuing the conversation. I’m referring to concrete documents, historical facts, and other empirical ideas. You’re bringing up a joke deity that people use as a substitute for actually considering the claims they’re trying to refute.

    You never backed up your own statements. I gave reasons for why what I believe is valid. All you’ve done is ask me to repeat them, and you haven’t defended the validity of your own views. If you don’t want to, fine, but if you’re not going to try, then don’t ask me to.

  75. We can argue semantics all day, but the point remains valid. People can have flawed vision, and flawed mathematical reasoning. I can determine who is right or wrong in those cases based on objective, external, fixed definitions and sources.

    Likewise, you can determine who is right or wrong regarding moral propositions based on an external, objective source — Morality — just as the Laws of Logic provide an objective, external source with which to analyze logical arguments. In fact, the Laws of Logic provide a nice analogy here, since they share many of the same properties as Morality (they are immaterial, coeternal with the universe, immutable, etc., and we can grasp them intuitively).

    That brings me back to repeating the same challenge: tell me how, using the only valid means of apprehension of morality (our moral sense) can one person ever tell another person that they’re morally incorrect?

    Achieving the correct stance on most nontrivial moral issues involves a chain of reasoning (let’s call it a “Moral Argument”) that employs both atomic moral facts (these are what we “see” with our Moral Sense–let’s call them “Moral Axioms”), as well as empirical facts, to reach a conclusion. I see at least 3 possible sources of moral disagreement between person X and person Y:

    1. X’s Moral Argument is not logically valid. All Y has to do is show X which portion of his argument isn’t valid.

    2. X’s Moral Argument, while valid, is not sound–i.e., one or more of his premises is empirically wrong. These disputes can be resolved evidentially.

    3. X’s Moral Sense is damaged, and he is unable to “see” the correct Moral Axioms. Such disputes cannot be resolved.

    Here’s a question: How common is the 3rd type of moral dispute? I imagine it’s extremely rare. Most of us agree when it comes to Moral Axioms (e.g., “It’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm”), while disagreeing about empirical matters (e.g., “Allah says it is necessary that we harm his enemies”).

    You are so sure about your perception of morality that you think I’m handicapped: so how do you know, and what makes that valid?

    I’ll concede this point. I don’t know that you’re morally handicapped, and, as stated above, now that I think about it, moral handicaps are probably quite rare.

    “First of all, why should we believe that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate?”

    I’ve already given an answer for this. Referring to the historical, empirical, logical, and other such evidence supporting the Gospel accounts of Christ is pretty cogent. If you don’t accept it, so be it. But don’t ignore it.

    How do the verifiable (i.e., empirical) Gospel accounts of Christ support the idea that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate? I’m not seeing the connection.

    Also, I’ll ask you again: Even if we can trust God’s apprehension of morality, how do you know your apprehension of “God’s morality” is better than my apprehension of morality, per se? It’s not enough to show that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate; to be consistent, you must also show that your apprehension of God’s apprehension of morality is also accurate (at least, more accurate than my direct apprehension of morality).

    “How exactly do miracles and “objectivity” count as evidence of God’s moral superiority; and, more importantly, how do they lend support to your supposed apprehension of God’s apprehension of morality?”

    Said in same arguments as above.

    You didn’t give an argument. You simply made a statement: That the historical, empirical, logical, and other such evidence supporting the Gospel accounts of Christ supports the premise that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate. Can you elaborate on this? Note that, for the sake of argument, I’m not disputing the historical accuracy of the Gospels. I’m simply asking you to show how the Gospels, if true, support the idea that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate.

    Your P-points are badly flawed. God’s ‘perception’ of morals is not the issue. You’re projecting your own assumption that morals are defined apart from God’s nature. It’s not nearly so complex as you’re trying to make it. We have communicated moral precepts from an authority who has demonstrated the authority to make such edicts.

    Tony has already showed you the problems with this line of thinking (i.e., Euthyphro’s Dilemma), so I won’t get into that here (except to note that you seem strangely glib about a theological problem that many respected theistic philosophers admit ranks right up there with the Problem of Evil). Divine Command Theory has fallen out of fashion for a reason.

    Likewise, be careful what silly metaphors you bring up, as well. IPU and FSM are textbook examples of shallow strawmen. If you really think those are reasonable responses to the kind of arguments that I’m making

    I haven’t seen a single logical argument from you. That’s why I had to try to formulate one for you, based on some of the vague statements (note: statements are not arguments) you’ve made throughout this thread. And my use of the IPU was intended as an overload objection. It was supposed to be silly. That’s the point.

    If this discussion’s going to go anywhere, you need give us something formal & precise. Statements like, “…the historical, empirical, logical, and other such evidence supporting the Gospel accounts of Christ is pretty cogent,” are no substitute for a logical argument whose conclusion is, “…we believe that God’s apprehension of morality is accurate”; and, “You’re projecting your own assumption that morals are defined apart from God’s nature,” doesn’t tell me anything about why I shouldn’t make such an assumption (incidentally, it’s not an assumption; it is a fact apprehended via my Moral Sense), or why your assumption that morality is part of God’s nature is more sound. You have to connect the dots, otherwise all you’ve got are non-sequiturs and naked assertions.

    If nothing else, at least show me how the Gospels, granting for the sake of argument their historical accuracy, support the idea that morality is part of God’s nature more strongly than our Moral Sense supports the idea that Morality, like logic, asthetics, math, etc., exists as a separate entity. If you can’t do this, then you have to admit that Morality exists apart from God, and the critique I gave in my previous post stands.

  76. Jordan,

    I think we’ve come to some level of agreement about the biggest problem with your view of morality:

    3. X’s Moral Sense is damaged, and he is unable to “see” the correct Moral Axioms. Such disputes cannot be resolved….

    I’ll concede this point. I don’t know that you’re morally handicapped, and, as stated above, now that I think about it, moral handicaps are probably quite rare.

    When the issue is not one of logical structure or empiricism, you have nothing to work with. Most moral statements are not so sterile that they can be summed up in a clean way using just logic and empirical data. Logic and morality are very different in some important ways. For one, logic is not personal. Morality is very personal. Logic simply tells us what things are or are not – morality tells us whether or not they “should” or “should not” be. Logic has nothing to do with relationships; morality is meaningless outside of the context of a relationship.

    Probably the most pertinent difference, to this discussion, is that logically “wrong” things cannot happen in reality because of LoC. It’s not possible to circumvent logic in practice – that’s why we know that logically valid arguments with distributed terms really are universal. It is possible, though, to be morally “wrong”, to do something contrary to the laws of morality. That means that we can’t prove, demonstrate, or perceive moral statements in the same way that we can logical ones.

    You also need to recognize that the premises that you start from in these ‘logical syllogisms’ are not inert. They have to be moral statements themselves, and how then do you know if they are accurate? Also, I note that you have to couch that analysis with the phrase “most nontrivial moral issues”. Weren’t you criticizing my view of morality for not being comprehensive enough?

    The “third type” is a lot more common that your analysis suggests, since it comes up before you even get to your #1, most of the time.

    All of this makes even the original moral question at hand a good example of why your approach can’t actually work. Empiricism doesn’t settle it, and logic doesn’t settle it. There’s a question of fundamental morals at work, and the best your view can do is call it “un-resolvable”. Which is less useful: an approach to morality that can’t answer major questions, or the one that’s not specific on the minor ones?

    I’m willing to explain the connection in my thought again, but not to start cranking out the dissertations. Miracles demonstrate the power and authority of the deity. So when Jesus says, “I’m the creator and sustainer of life, and I say A is bad and B is good”, and then demonstrates His authority over life by raising someone from the dead, that’s good evidence that He really is the one with absolute authority.

    Remember, again, that Christian theism does not consider morality to be something God ‘apprehends’. Morality in Christian theism is inseparable from the nature of God. An infinite, perfect entity who cannot change doesn’t “apprehend” the morals He relates to humanity. They’re part of who/what He is. That’s why I’m not being dismissive of Euthyphro so much as noting that it’s not what some people think it is. It’s more a question about God’s nature than morality. The answer I gave (not A or B, but both) is not my own invention, it’s a fairly early one. Aquinas, at least, was making that assessment.

    I’m saying that morality is not apprehensible in exactly the same way as logic or color. What makes my approach “better” is that I can actually check my “perceptions”, or my “moral sense” against something not dependent on my prejudices, preferences, or passions. Despite what Tony says, it is possible to know what a person meant when they wrote down an idea in words, and scriptural morality is (at least) better in that it’s external to me, and unchanging. I can actually use the logical and empirical techniques with respect to that written code, because I have something concrete and objective to start with (the text). I also have a way to answer the kind of “major dilemma” that your view is helpless against.

    As far as apprehending scriptural morality “better”, that’s where we can have a meaningful conversation about logic, context, language, and so forth. I’m not really interested in hashing out the specifics of every moral speck we can think of, but I think you see the point. There’s something mutual and objective we can refer to when we debate which position is moral or immoral.

    I’m not attempting to frame everything in syllogistic terms – that doesn’t mean I’m not making logical arguments. I noted your dilemma: perceive morals through moral sense alone, or not? In essence, your answer was, “sooner or later, yes.” Logically, your approach collapses into itself, because it’s overtly circular. It all starts and ends with “moral sense”. I noted that written text is more objective than “feelings” (or “senses”, or whatever); therefore, morality apprehended at least partly through written tenets is more objective than morality apprehended purely through feelings (or senses).

    No offense intended, but if you can’t follow an argument that’s not put into diagrammed syllogistic form for you, then why talk about it at all? I think you’re more than capable of following the train of thought. I’m making arguments and supporting them with reasoning. I’ve shown why my reasons lead to my conclusions; I’ve shown why I make the assertions that I do. You’re really stretching the situation to suggest that I’ve done absolutely none of either.

    I’ve already mentioned how the Gospels, if historically accurate, serve as evidence that what Jesus said came with supreme authority. Your response that that doesn’t mean that God’s got the right sense of morality is essentially a slip into “moral solipsism”. At some point, you’ve got to be willing to accept some sort of evidence that your own personal moral sense might not be accurate. You’ve got to be willing to accept some sort of evidence that someone else’s is. And if you’re arguing that overt demonstrations of God’s power can’t convince you that He’s the sole moral authority, then you’re basically unwilling to concede any moral perceptions outside of your own. Philosophical solipsism is essentially inarguable, and this “moral solipsism” is as well.

    In short, if no possible argument could convince you that God was the ultimate moral authority, what reason is there to make any arguments at all?

  77. When the issue is not one of logical structure or empiricism, you have nothing to work with.

    My contention is that most moral disagreements are due to logical or empirical errors. At bottom, we all use our Moral Sense to apprehend the same basic Moral Axioms. It’s the mistakes we make afterward that cause all the trouble.

    Most moral statements are not so sterile that they can be summed up in a clean way using just logic and empirical data.

    They don’t have to be “sterile” (whatever that means). They simply have to start with one or more Moral Axioms, and reach a logical conclusion. I realize that many people don’t reach a logical conclusion (although they usually accept the correct Moral Axioms) and in such cases their error will result in moral disagreements. That’s my point.

    Logic and morality are very different in some important ways. For one, logic is not personal. Morality is very personal.

    I didn’t claim that logic is personal. I claimed that it should be used to reach moral conclusions based on Moral Axioms & empirical data, and that its misuse is often a source of moral disagreement.

    Logic simply tells us what things are or are not

    I think that claim is a bit strong. All logic really tells us is what follows from what. That’s why a valid logical argument, with one or more unsound premises, can reach a false conclusion. Your premises have to be true (i.e., sound) in order to guarantee a true conclusion. That’s why empirical errors are another source of moral disagreement, even when logic is being used properly.

    morality tells us whether or not they “should” or “should not” be.

    I claimed that logic can be use to find out what follows from a given set of Moral Axioms and emprical statements–i.e., it can be used in conjunction with Morality to properly analyze moral issues.

    You also need to recognize that the premises that you start from in these ‘logical syllogisms’ are not inert. They have to be moral statements themselves, and how then do you know if they are accurate?

    We know from our Moral Sense. My point is that our Moral Sense only gives us basic moral facts (i.e., Moral Axioms), and that these facts, in conjunction with empirical data, have to be logically analyzed in order to reach a conclusion about a given, nontrivial moral issue. i.e., “Abortion is wrong,” is not a Moral Axiom. It requires empirical data, one or more Moral Axioms, and careful logical analysis. The Moral Axioms are apprehended through your Moral Sense, though; that is my claim, and I think you might actually agree with me; you would just add that they need external corroboration. More on that below…

    Also, I note that you have to couch that analysis with the phrase “most nontrivial moral issues”. Weren’t you criticizing my view of morality for not being comprehensive enough?

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I was implying that Moral Axioms, by themselves, are enough to reach conclusions about trivial moral issues, while logic & empirical data are needed when it comes to nontrivial issues.

    The “third type” is a lot more common that your analysis suggests, since it comes up before you even get to your #1, most of the time.

    I disagree. Like C. S. Lewis, I think most people “see” the same Moral Axioms.

    All of this makes even the original moral question at hand a good example of why your approach can’t actually work. Empiricism doesn’t settle it, and logic doesn’t settle it. There’s a question of fundamental morals at work, and the best your view can do is call it “un-resolvable”.

    No, the disagreement is not about Moral Axioms. It is likely empirical, which is why the congregation probably would have reacted differently have they not been Christians (i.e., had they not accepted certain empirical claims about how God wants us to behave).

    Miracles demonstrate the power and authority of the deity. So when Jesus says, “I’m the creator and sustainer of life, and I say A is bad and B is good”, and then demonstrates His authority over life by raising someone from the dead, that’s good evidence that He really is the one with absolute authority.

    What do power and authority have to do with morality? Does a moral proposition become more probable because it is affirmed by someone powerful–say, George Bush or Barrack Obama? Again, you’re not connecting the dots. You’re making a gigantic leap between power & authority, and morality, and I’m not willing to make that leap with you.

    Remember, again, that Christian theism does not consider morality to be something God ‘apprehends’.

    Well then, as you put it, I can only shrug, and say that I disagree with Christian theism on this matter. And why shouldn’t I?

    Morality in Christian theism is inseparable from the nature of God.

    How do you know?

    An infinite, perfect entity who cannot change doesn’t “apprehend” the morals He relates to humanity. They’re part of who/what He is.

    Again, how do you know? Seriously, I’m not being obtuse. I’m asking how you can possibly claim know all of these things about God–that he is perfect, infinite, unchanging, that morality is part of his nature, etc. Your theological views are starting to look like a house of cards…

    What makes my approach “better” is that I can actually check my “perceptions”, or my “moral sense” against something not dependent on my prejudices, preferences, or passions. Despite what Tony says, it is possible to know what a person meant when they wrote down an idea in words, and scriptural morality is (at least) better in that it’s external to me, and unchanging.

    Once again, why should you think the Bible is a better source of moral facts than your Moral Sense? And what makes you think one’s Moral Sense is dependent on prejudices, preferences, or passions, and that one’s view of the Bible is not?

    I can actually use the logical and empirical techniques with respect to that written code, because I have something concrete and objective to start with (the text)

    The physical book is “concrete and objective,” but the ideas it contains (which is what you’re really talking about) are not. How do you know the author can be trusted when it comes to moral/metaphysical ideas? How is your indirect, secondhand experience of someone else’s experience (via heavily translated text) more reliable than the direct experiential data of your Moral Sense?

    Logically, your approach collapses into itself, because it’s overtly circular.

    It’s not circular; it’s basic–i.e., it’s foundational. It’s not a thing to be proven, it’s a thing to serve as the basis of proof. We all have these sorts of beliefs. Yours (God) is just buried a bit deeper.

    I noted that written text is more objective than “feelings” (or “senses”, or whatever); therefore, morality apprehended at least partly through written tenets is more objective than morality apprehended purely through feelings (or senses).

    Written text is just an external approximation the author’s “feelings” (as you put it). How is that objective? An idea doesn’t lose its subjectivity just because it’s been written down.

    I’ve already mentioned how the Gospels, if historically accurate, serve as evidence that what Jesus said came with supreme authority.

    Again, I’d like to see how we can get morality from authority.

    At some point, you’ve got to be willing to accept some sort of evidence that your own personal moral sense might not be accurate.

    Ok, fair enough, and here it is: If a significant number of people, who I know and trust, disagree with me about certain Moral Axioms, while being in agreement amongst themselves, then I think that would count as evidence that there’s something wrong with my Moral Sense. In other words, corroboration does play a role in my view of morality.

    In short, if no possible argument could convince you that God was the ultimate moral authority, what reason is there to make any arguments at all?

    Let me ask you something: Given that God is supremely powerful, what evidence could convince you that he is not a reliable source of moral truth?

  78. Jordan,

    As I said, the problem with your approach is that it’s based first and second on your own “moral sense”. It’s how you apprehend the “axioms”, it’s how you judge the end results. It’s then punted to survey (after you claimed that anything other than your moral sense alone was superfluous), where you’d take a sort of poll of what others think. I know your view is a bit more sophisticated than that, but that’s the gist of the problem. I think you’d have a hard time arguing that some strong feeling you have about a moral “axiom” is really liable to change just because a lot of people disagree with you.

    I also think you’re upside down on whether moral axioms are more applicable to major or “trivial” issues. Isn’t that what makes them “trivial”, that they’re not strongly tied to some fundamental moral principle? I don’t think that’s a sensible argument, that trivial issues are easily settled by moral axioms, while major issues are not easily settled. That’s a very weak form of moral applicability, to have the fundamental moral questions unanswerable and the peripherals assured, isn’t it?

    The reason the apprehension of the moral axioms comes up first is because people have prejudiced apprehensions. You can’t escape that; but your view insists on an assumption that almost all people will have almost exactly the same interpretation of the axioms in any given circumstance. And if they don’t, you still have nothing concrete to use to untangle the disagreement – just more prejudiced moral senses.

    The congregation was acting on a fundamental Christian principle – loving one’s neighbor as they love themselves. I’m now confused as to what you think “empirical” means.

    I think it should be clear that I’m not talking about petty power or limited authority. I’m talking about a deity demonstrating absolute and universal power over fundamental universal concepts, like life and death. You’re asking about persons with limited authority. The authority George Bush has is limited to the property and territory of the U.S. (it’s limited and finite), and I’m fully aware that he’s not the originator of those properties or territories. Moral precepts are not subject to his level of authority.

    When God demonstrates authority that’s absolute and universal, I have reason to accept His claim to universal and absolute authority, and that includes morality. If He gives me overt reasons to believe that He created the universe in the first place, those are good reasons to believe that He knows what is or is not moral in that universe.

    So, I’m not making any leap at all. I’m just noting that evidence which proves that some entity actually was the Creator and designer of the very reality I exist in is, by definition, also evidence that the same entity is the Creator of the morality operative in that reality.

    ”How do you know?”

    In brief, since this is getting silly, are you asking how I know what the position of Christian Theism is? Same for the question of apprehension: the definition is the answer. That’s essential logic, by the way. As God is defined in Christian Theism, His attributes make talk of morality as something separate from God “non-Christian-theism” to begin with.

    I’ve said why I think the Bible is a better source for moral truth than just my own moral sense. Several times. I also noted that it’s the external nature of the Bible that makes it feasible to discuss the possibility that my perception of it may be wrong. My apprehension of the Bible can only be influenced by my passions so much – and other people have an objective way of determining if my apprehension is correct. All you can do is call people ‘handicapped’, and they either accept or reject that by personal fiat.

    I’m absolutely not going to continue arguing whether or not one can glean objective meaning from written words. The discussion in that respect is getting ridiculous. I stand by my accusation that the attitude that one cannot do so, consistently applied, would make law, contracts, history, and just about all other uses of the written word totally worthless. It’s a bankrupt argument to make, and I’m just not interested in humoring a person’s approach to scripture that they’d never use on anything else. I don’t believe for one second that you’d accept that same reasoning in any other sphere.

    Alternatively, I can just say that everything you have written is subjective to the point that I can’t really know if you mean “written down” as in “put in written form”, or, “transcribed vertically”, or “goose feathers drawn on paper”, or something else entirely. I can’t even go by the context, since that’s in that pesky “subjective” written form, too. Sure, there was an Idea there, but it’s a subjective idea that has to be subjectively interpreted, using my own subjective apprehension…which is why we all know that one just cannot know what a writer really means when they write. I’m helpless to continue the conversation, now that I’ve accepted the view of writing that you’ve espoused.

    We don’t get morality from authority, in some ethereal sense. Demonstrations of absolute and universal authority, however, lend credibility to claims of moral authority. As I said, solipsism of all stripes can’t be rationally or logically refuted in a person committed to it. If every possible proof that God could offer that His morality is authoritative is going to be met with a “so what”, then why bother?

    I think God’s given convincing evidence that He’s the supreme authority in all senses. That includes morality. If someone could out-do that, then I’d be willing to consider them more authoritative than God on moral issues. If Jesus was doing card tricks or escape artistry, I wouldn’t have that kind of confidence. Resurrection, raising of the dead, and instantaneous curing of diseases is another thing entirely.

    Note that I didn’t answer your question as it was posed, because it was posed in a way that answers itself, from the perspective of Christian theism. A being of truly “supreme” power has power that extends to all aspects of reality. So, “supreme power” as it applies to the Christian God entails power over morality by definition. Therefore, it would be impossible to sensibly talk of God being anything other than perfectly reliable, given “supreme power”.

  79. All,

    With that, I’m going to vacate the discussion. I’m starting to sense the “inverse ad nauseum” effect, where I’m just being asked to endlessly repeat my reasoning by someone who acts as though it was never made at all. No offense, that may be completely accidental, but it’s no less pointless.

    I think we’ve reached that point where further talk, at least on my end, isn’t going to produce anything constructive. It’s worse than circular, it’s getting silly. Whatever others choose to add is all well and good, of course, but I think the discussion’s potential for progress is spent.

  80. Jordan,

    Sorry you got pulled back in. Good to read your thoughts, however.

    Medicine Man,

    I glanced through the last string of comments and while I agree that this is getting silly I think it’s not rooted in the same cause you do.

    You wrote:

    What you’ve demonstrated is that you’re adamant on rejecting scriptural historicity and objectivity in ways you’d never apply to other fields. That’s pretty specious. You seem bent on dismissing Jordan’s and my requests for an argument from you.

    The first sentence is patently false. Previously in this discussion, I wrote all of these:

    Hearsay, of course, is so unreliable that it can’t be used as evidence in a U.S. court.

    That’s me demonstrating that my standard applies in U.S. court.

    Of course, we’re talking about ancient history. No one can claim to “know” with certainty the exact truth of events that happened just 2,000 years ago among people with whom we share so few sensibilities.

    That’s me demonstrating that my standard applies to ancient history.

    But reading ancient documents we are left with two choices: either people recorded lies (or stated things in fantastic terms not intended to be taken literally), or the people of that time were far more credulous than they are today.

    That’s me demonstrating that my standard applies to ancient documents.

    When I referred to “ancient documents” I met all ancient documents, not just the biblical ones.

    That’s me demonstrating that my standard applies to ancient documents again.

    Say what you want about the accuracy of ancient histories, I don’t know of any historian who gives much credence to head counts. Everything from city sizes to combatants in a battle are famously, and for obvious reasons, inflated with dependable predictability.

    That’s me demonstrating that my standard applies to head counts in ancient histories, particularly the number of battle combatants.

    In other words, your account of my position is a patent straw man. And that is silly.

    Specious means that something appears on its surface to be plausible but is not really true on further study. So, to use that word correctly, one could say that your second sentence in the one I quoted above, claiming that I would never apply my standard to fields other than Scriptural historicity, is indeed specious.

    So, using the rules of logic, your conclusion above that no further discussion on this topic with me could be productive is based on a false premise, and is therefore fallacious.

    As for Jordan asking me for an argument I don’t recall that one. I also don’t recall your asking me for an argument either, although to be clear it is you making the claim that your morality is superior and objective. I have made no such claims, and the burden of proof is thus yours.

    Like Jordan did, I might pick this up and try to reconstruct what I believe your argument to now be.

  81. As for Jordan asking me for an argument I don’t recall that one.

    Funny, neither do I. In fact, I can’t find this sentence anywhere but in your so-called-quote of me:

    You seem bent on dismissing Jordan’s and my requests for an argument from you.

    That’s the only reason I put in another comment here. I didn’t recall saying that, couldn’t think of why I would, and on further review realized that I didn’t. Where did you get that from?

    I think you’ve clearly demonstrated my point, though. You’re more interested in giving misquotes and pedantic vocabulary lessons than really considering the arguments at hand.

    The “silliness” that really inspired me to let this go was the absurd notion that written text can’t be relied on for any objective information whatsoever. Taking that inane level of skepticism to other written words makes written communication almost useless; therefore, the attempt to dismiss the objectivity of scriptural morality on those grounds is sophistic.

    (note: I know what the words “inane” and “sophistry” mean, so please spare me the impromptu instruction)

    My argument re: consistency was not deflated by your counter. Yes, you made claims to having some standard. I implied that you weren’t applying them consistently, not that you had none. The evidence point is a perfect example – I cited one of history’s greatest legal expert’s opinion that the Gospels meet the requirements of courtroom evidence. Your response:

    As I said, I’m not a lawyer. But Greenleaf died in the mid 1800’s and I’m guessing he’s not going to be as up to date on case law as he could be were he alive today.

    Right. Sure. Whatever it takes, I suppose. If you’re going to throw out Greenleaf’s opinion on evidence, then you’ll need to take a few hundred thousand textbooks out of the hands of law students – and re-write the rules to fit your preferences. You’ve implied a standard, but you’ve done nothing to suggest that you’ll apply it the same way to the Bible as other texts.

    Hence, the use of the word, “specious”, which you so conveniently defined for us. On first glance, your arguments that written text can’t be relied on for objective information, and all the rejections on the basis of this-or-that standard seem plausible. But they don’t hold up, because you can’t apply any of them consistently to non-Biblical documents without obliterating history, law, and so forth. Therefore, the arguments are “specious” and the conversation has gotten “silly”. Now that we’re on to the kind of response your last comment entailed, it’s gotten “surreal”.

    (I also know what “surreal” means, thanks anyway).

    I just needed to point out for other readers that I did not make the statement you attributed to me, that I do in fact know my own words, and that you’re not really focused on the arguments so much as disagreeing just to disagree, or so it seems. I think it’s a pretty logical conclusion to say that the kind of discussion you’re engaging in is not useful for anything positive.

  82. Medicine Man,

    I do owe you an apology — you didn’t write “You seem bent on dismissing Jordan’s and my requests for an argument from you.” as I quoted you in my previous comment.

    I must have written that and later placed my blockquote in the wrong place and on a later re-read mistaken what I had done and attributed that sentence to you.

    Please accept my explanation that it was an honest mistake — I was not intentionally misquoting you. (I agree that it seemed like an unlikely thing for you to say, and my comment on it was only to that effect.)

  83. Tony,

    Appreciated, and understood. I assumed exactly what your explanation confirmed.

    In response, understand that there’s no personal animosity behind my response or my exit. I just don’t think there’s any more blood to get out of this stone.

  84. Medicine Man,

    For the sake of completeness I’m going to sum up what I think are the problems with the theistic position on claims to access to superior, objective morality that haven’t been resolved for me through this discussion. I don’t mean this to be a definitive statement by me or an authoritative conclusion of the discussion – it’s just my attempt to articulate what I still find unsatisfying about the claims discussed.

    I believe the Christian position on morality is this: Christian morality is superior because, among other things, it is objective and not relative. But I still don’t believe this is true. (I think the strongest position on Christian morality is that in some instances – like homosexuality – Scripture provides clear instruction. I would agree to that any time. But that is not the same thing as the first claim.)

    Why don’t I believe that Christian morality is objective? Although I do think that we are able to access Scripture objectively, words themselves are not morality. If your position is that God created the universe you either accept that God created a part of reality called Morality for which he gave us instructions (Scripture), or that he gave us (often ambiguous) instructions on how to behave and Morality does not exist. (If morality does not exist, but what we call Morality is only a set of instructions, then this discussion and the argument itself is meaningless.)

    So we are left with a thing called Morality. (Scripture itself is not Morality.) And as I outlined above, the decision about what is canonical is relative, and the interpretation of the words itself is (somewhat) subjective. Yes, you can say that the words of scripture present less ambiguity than moral axioms reasoned through to moral conclusions, etc., but at that point you will have conceded that your access to morality is not absolutely objective, and will have lost the claim of superiority that is based on objective apprehension.

    As I said earlier, there are differences between moral approaches. You can claim that Christian morality is better than any other, and we could argue that. But I can’t, at this point, concede that Christian morality can claim superiority because of its objectivity – many other moral codes are written down and proclaimed to be eternal based on a moral sense alone (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”), and could thence make the same claim.

  85. TOM
    There is a social category that with the label Christian, and includes people who attend churches with crosses on them, or people who were baptized at some point earlier in their life.

    CARR
    Thank God that these Bash Back people never target real Christians, but only people who attend churches with crosses on them, such as Mount Hope church.

    Of course, somebody attends church can become a real Christian as soon as anybody attacks that person.

    Perhaps only God knows what is in that person’s heart, but if he is attacked, you hardly need to be God to know that he must be a True Christian.

    STEVE K
    I agree with what Tom said, but I want to emphasize two words he said that might get overlooked – very likely are not Christians. You and I can only judge by what we see and hear, but God knows the heart of the individual. Tom is right to think that Fred Phelps sure doesn’t fit the Christian template (I agree), but ultimately God will be the judge.

    CARR
    Quite right.

    What right do we have to say that the people who were subject to such abuse were Christians?

    None.

    SO let us stop the talk of Christian-bashing, as we are not God and cannot judge these people to even have been Christians.

  86. I return to the question I started with, as applied to the situation at Mount Hope Church: what does hate really look like? Are you suggesting that what Bash Back did to that group was really good, just because you or they do not know how to discern the difference between one kind of Christianity and another?

  87. I said it was abuse. My apologies that I should have stressed that more. What were they thinking of? I couldn’t imagine doing something like that.

    Over here, Outrage! confines itself to outing Christian leaders as gay and Peter Tatchell squaring up to Robert Mugabe.

    But that takes a bit more guts than being stupid and dumb in a church….

    How do you know the abused people were actually Christians?

  88. From what I have seen on the news and their website, they seem to be in alignment with Biblical, evangelical Christianity, both in beliefs and in practice as far as it’s possible to tell from a distance. From that I conclude that they are 1) Christians in fact, generally, and/or 2) representative of Christians.

    Of course I cannot be absolutely certain, with the mind of God, that they are (1) Christians in fact. Nevertheless I can be sure that they are (2) representative of Biblical, evangelical Christianity.

    Furthermore, the specific actions of this church, for which Bash Back attacked them, are actions that are in line with Biblical Christianity.

    By that fact and by (2), Bash Back’s actions were indeed hateful toward Christianity, regardless of whether you and I can take the place of God and assert (1) with full confidence.

  89.